As someone who gets hungry every three hours or so, yesterday was my very own Greek Odyssey. We didn’t end up eating for a solid 18 hours, which was horrible. I’m just glad I had that mediocre (but large) curry at Wetherspoon’s in Gatwick – it kept me going for most of it and stopped me killing Mum because I was hangry.
We landed into Athens Eleftherios Venizelos (the only airport where I’ll say the full name, because I studied the bloke and let me tell you he is totally fascinating) at night, walked miles and miles to get our bags, and headed for the metro. Though I am super happy to be back in the place I call home, I was exhausted. Reaching the apartment just before 11pm, we were dismayed to find there was no food in the house (save for a bit of rice, but how exactly would you turn that into breakfast?). So we tried to sleep off our hunger, but that made it worse – I felt so unwell the next morning I couldn’t make it to the supermarket, so poor mum had to carry back food-laden bags. Bran Flakes have never tasted so good.
The first thing anybody must do in Athens is the magnificent Acropolis and adjacent Agora. I thought I would earnestly try my Greek in an easy place like this – and I was doing so well, until I said the word ‘si’. SI. WE ARE NOT IN SPAIN. OR ITALY. I am in my favourite place in the world and I said bloody SI. To be fair, though, Greek for yes is ‘nai’, which can get a bit confusing.
Tramping up the hill to the Acropolis and marvelling at the ancient sights to be seen along the way, we stopped at the open-air theatre, which still runs productions of the classics and some operas. Check it out…
You’d be surprised at the sheer number of tourists that plague the steps up to the Parthenon every day, even this late in the season. I had thought Athens was one of Europe’s less popular destinations, but alas, people are now starting to see what I see. The stone at the top of the Acropolis is like slippery marble, because so many people’s shoes have worn away any semblance of grit.
Tourists at the Propylea – bugger off!
Of course, the Parthenon is utterly breathtaking. Sadly it’s been covered in scaffolding for years now as the repairs are taking a long time, and they are proving costly to the beleaguered Greek government. But they are worth doing, since it is this that brings money to the lesser-known Greek mainland.
The side with no scaffolding, and no selfie sticks.
Walking around the ancient temple, we noticed it was very well-equipped for tourists. Toilets, benches, and even drinking fountains cater to your every bodily function. It’s light years away from the scarcity of facilities in Iceland, but then I am inclined to think the Icelanders might have the right idea, since the Parthenon landscape is worn away by thousands of people that visit each and every day.
Also, unrelated – I have blue hair now.
Trudging back down the slope towards the exit, you can explore the peaceful north side of the Acropolis, where there are far less tourists and plenty of historical things to admire. We even found a solitary step for 20 minutes or so, before some bastard disturbed our peace.
In olden times (2 years ago), a ticket to the Acropolis would get you into the Agora, just across the road from the exit. Having not researched it since then, I assumed it’d be the same these days, but sadly no. Not only does one have to walk all the way around to the front entrance, you now have to pay 8 euros. That’s 8 pounds, isn’t it?
I guess it’s worth it for this alone, though:
The lovingly reconstructed Stoa of Attalos gives us a taste of what life was like back in the Agora’s heyday – the Roman era.
With plenty of olive and fig trees around to give you shade, you can spend a very relaxing afternoon here, though I’ll admit there’s a chance you may be bored of ancient monuments by the end of the day. Thankfully, the last thing you’ll probably see in the Agora is the incredibe Temple of Hephasteus, one of the most brilliantly preserved temples I have ever seen:
One of the reasons it’s so well-preserved is that it’s been in continuous use, even though it’s more or less the same age as the Acropolis. At one point, it was a church!
The Temple of Hephasteus is probably my favourite in all Greece, owing to the fact you can really imagine what it was once like.
By this time, though, we were hungry again. Searching through all the Monastiraki tourist tavernas, we did find one that was worth its salt. Just behind Hadrian’s library, Veranda does decent Greek food for reasonable prices, and it’s surrounded by ancient monuments and pretty trees. Overall I’d say it’s worth a visit. Indeed, Athens might be the only place in the world where I actually enjoy salad.
Plus they gave us some bread with this black olive tapenade, which you might be able to get in Waitrose, and I LOVE IT.
Athens is a very hard city to get lost in, owing to the fact you always know where you are if you can see the Acropolis. The streets at the foot of it are filled with nice-looking restaurants and kafeneio (coffee shops, usually frequented by elderly Greeks). Plaka, though a complete tourist trap, has a lot of merits – it’s beautiful and traditional, for a start.
Later on, we are planning to go to the grand Zappeion, which has an outdoor cinema showing Victoria and Abdul. Strangely, this will be the second time I’ve seen a Judi Dench film directed by Stephen Frears in an Athens outdoor cinema. More strangely, I interviewed its stars – Ali Fazal and Eddie Izzard – a few weeks back for work. It’s a small world indeed, and it’s getting smaller by the minute. À demain.