5.24.09 85 °F
Athens as I remembered it was dirty and congested. I was pleased to find on my return that it wasn’t quite as bad as I had thought. Yes, it is still polluted and overrun with taxis and traffic, but I found a unique charm to Athens that I can really only compare if you were to combine the ruggedness of Cairo with the sophistication of New York. Yes the edges are a little rough and in places it feels unsafe, but the history and culture rivals Europe’s top cities. Our stay here was brief, but I managed to squeeze in some of Athens top sights.
The Plaka rivals the Acropolis as top tourist attraction. This maze of restaurants serving bland food and shops selling cheesy t-shirts is worth visiting, if only briefly. Up until Athens was made the capital of Greece in 1834, this small area at the foot of the Acropolis was the extent of Athens existence.
The Sunday Flea Market can be found on the far end of the Plaka and was a spectacle unto itself. Stands lined the storefronts where one could purchase everything from plumbing equipment to rare antiques. Locals and tourists alike haggled out a good deal and my favorite sight was watching a vacationing couple eagerly tote their new weed whacker to lunch.
The Acropolis, sits high above the Plaka and views of the Parthenon are hard to miss as you make your way around the city. We were given a private tour of this historical sight, but unfortunately I missed most of it as I was carrying a very unhappy 16 month old. Between the nearly 90 degree weather and the confinement of being held, this little guy was ready to go. Nevertheless, I still got to take in the sights and appreciate this amazing wonder.
The National Gardens are located near the Acropolis and serve as the stomping ground for strolling locals and energetic children. Between a small zoo, botanical gardens, and playgrounds it is easy to let yourself get lost on the trails in this lush park. No, it’s not Central Park and the grounds are not perfectly maintained, but it is Athens after all, and I found it to be welcoming.
Lastly, I toured the National Archaeological Museum. This museum contains the most impressive collection of Greek art and sculpture I have seen yet. It definitely rivals Europe’s top museums (think the Vatican or Louvre) and is worth a very long afternoon or several short visits.
Athens may not be a sole vacation destination, but combined with some of the other delights in Greece; it is definitely worth a couple days. It definitely lacks the charms and beauty of the islands, but it is a unique city to explore. I leave Greece with the anticipation of a adopting a more Greek lifestyle. Greeks are relaxed and simple; they linger over meals, visit with friends, and live a minimalist lifestyle. I feel like we could all benefit from becoming a little more Greek. I mean, how could you go wrong with afternoon naps, lazy work days, hearty, late meals, and carafes of wine? Now if only I could convince the rest of America.