There are two pieces of advice I’d give anyone going to Athens. First, start your day as early as possible. The highlight of Athens is the Acropolis and it gets jammed with tourists. But if you get there at the beginning of the day, it is possible to be ahead of the masses. And second, since there is so much to see in a short amount of time, arrange a tour. We decided on a private tour since we were five people. After scouring the Internet we found one that was highly recommended. Good ones will engage you in an email dialog before your visit, often responding to you within 12 hours. Like many cities in Europe, some people are licensed as drivers who can take you around but not guide you inside the sites, and others are licensed guides, who are rarely drivers. We contracted with a driver and asked him to in turn get us a guide (which turned out to be a common practice.) On Trip Advisor, the tours tended to be drivers. Just be sure to ask so you know what you are getting.
The crowds at the Acropolis were a bit overwhelming, especially in 95 degree weather. Our guide got our tickets and tried to get us in quickly by bypassing the lines, but she couldn’t. (There are times she can, but this wasn’t one of them.) The line went quickly, but didn’t exactly seem that orderly. There are LOTS of steps. And one thing that struck us was that other countries don’t seem to worry about safety like we do. Guess they aren’t sued as much as in the United States.
At the Acropolis you are literally on top of the city. It’s hard to believe that they could have built the Parthenon without any of the equipment we have today. The Greeks are busy restoring parts of it and it’s easy to see the new pieces that have been put in.
Our guide gave us the history of Athena and Poseidon and their contest over who would be the Patron of the city. Athena was the victor. Besides describing everything and getting us around the crowded area, she pointed out the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the modern Olympic stadium. Another benefit, she told us where the best places were to take photos.
Before we went on the cruise we got out the history of Greece on CD. While it provided a lot more information than I needed, the 10 percent I retained did give me a general idea of Greece’s place in the history of the Mediterranean and its relation to the Roman Empire. Oh, and it’s a good idea to brush up on some of the Greek Gods you learned about in school. Many of our words came from the Greeks – Agoraphobia, metropolis and marathon to name a few. Of course, the name that we related most to was Nike.
Next to the Agora ruins, was the Agora museum to show you how the Agora once looked. The Agora was the market place in ancient times. In the museum many of the artifacts showed how people in ancient times made offerings for the Gods. And people were buried with different items, the wealthier the person, the better the items.
The Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009, is an archaeological museum built to display the findings of the Acropolis of Athens and is located by the southeastern slope of the Acropolis hill. However, some people on our cruise were disappointed.
They had been to the British Museum where more of the Greek artifacts are housed. The Greek’s are trying to get the pieces back but so far to no avail.
One of the highlights of Athens was the food. On our travels our guide took us to place near the Acropolis that had restaurants and cafes. On a busy schedule the kids opted for carry-out. They had souvlaki (gyro) followed by gelato and Greek yogurt with toppings. They said the souvlaki was “the best they ever had.”
If you have time in Athens you might want to take its subway. We didn’t, but our guide took us down to see the archeological displays including pieces from ancient Greece. Hard to believe such pieces were in the subway. I can’t imagine having them in NY or DC subways.
Then it was on to the Parliament. We got there just in time to see the changing of the Guards. Their foot action is amazing – lots of kicking and those shoes with the pom-poms are something to look at.
The Olympics were born in ancient Greece. The day before, when the Holland America Noordam stopped at Katakolon, Greece we visited the ruins of the first place (776BC) where the Olympics took place. For that outing we rented a car and did touring on our own. Seeing this ancient spot was incredible. While it is only ruins it’s easy to see how advanced they were and the sports they competed in.
At the Olympic Stadium in Athens we learned that the eternal flame was introduced in 1936. The flame is brought from Olympia to Athens where it travels then to the host city. We all found this interesting since we always watch the Olympics. We also learned that the marathon in Athens actually starts in the town of Marathon and ends in the Olympic Stadium.
Athens is a very busy crowded city. After a long day we headed back to the Noordam for relaxation and dinner. Dinner that night included many Greek specialties.