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Published: September 9th 2007
A bustling home to 4 million, a reputation for being congested/ polluted and with over 7000 years of history, Athens was once a daunting city to explore for toursists. However with the tourism infrastructure vastly improved for the 2004 Olympics, it is just as easy to explore and just as convenient as most major European cities and still relatively inexpensive. Most guide books discourage staying in Athens for more than 1-2 days but I think lovers of big cities can stay longer. My stay consists of 3 days and spent mostly in the historical center. For convenience I have listed the sights I've seen with a brief description of each.
*Plaka- It was fun getting lost in the winding, narrow streets of this old neighborhood on the base of the Acropolis. The mostly pedestrianized lanes lined with old houses, tourist shops and tavernas is one of the most popular place to tourists to while away their time. There are many Byzantine
era churches and neoclassical houses with peeling facades.
*National Archeological Museum- A treasure throve of Greek historical artifacts from over 7000 years , I spent over 3 hours here. Most astounding was the collection of Mycenean
and knick knacks. To the ancient Greeks Mycenea (which was almost 1800 before their time) was a source of fascination. Kinda like how we are fascinated by the ancient Greeks. The museum also has the most comprehensive collection of ancient Greek sculptures as well as some Minoan frescoes. Although it felt like my brain was dripping out of my ears from all this history it was actually a lot of fun studying these artifacts.It made me realize in many ways we are the same as these ancient people.
*The Acropolis- This site takes the cake for most awe inspiring, gasp worthy sight in Athens. The pictures can never do it justice. We've all heard how perfect the Parthenon
is but seeing in person is a different experience all together. It's huge but not intimidating, grand but graceful, derelict but powerful. The Erechtheion is the other well preserved temple on the hill. It is most famous for its Porch of the Caryatids. With collumns of Greek women from the ancient town of Caryai striking a pose (for eternity). There is an olive tree (which was Athena's gift to the Greeks) behind this temple.
*The Ancient Agora- On the base
of the Acropolis,Agora or Market is where the ancient Greeks congregated. It was a market, town square, YMCA, schools and temples combined. Here is where Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and even St. Paul lectured, preached and debated. This place offers a great view of the Acropolis. Most of the buildings are nothing but ruins except for the temple of Haphaestus which is the only surviving Greek temple with an intact roof.
*Monastiraki - My hotel is in this area, it's a very busy and fun area to explore. This is where the Metro lines converge, the flea market starts as well as other pedestrianised shopping streets. Sunday morning was spent browsing the wares in the market. I honestly believe you can find anything you are looking for here. There are cheap souvenirs, vintage posters, old coins, stamps, clothes gallore from China, furniture, lamps, jewelry and a DVD of John Travolta's Boy in the Plastic Bubble. It was fun seeing all the locals shopping and the bewildered looking tourists snapping pictures (including me).
*Greek Food- Fresh, simple and rich in flavor. I've been eating a lot of lamb and frequenting the cheap tavernas around Monastiraki. There are also a lot
of reasonably prized cute restaurants all over the Plaka. Street food consists of koulouria which are like pretzels with sesame and salt, gyros(yeerohs) and sweet rolls of coconut (I don't know what they're called).
*Stray dogs and cats- Athens is home to hundreds of these creatures. Traditionally, people did not listen to Bob Barker and let them reproduce but before the Olympics they were all rounded up and snipped. They are actually pretty tame and healthy. There is no short supply of food from the restaurants and people take care of the dogs in their neighborhood. I read somewhere they even take them to vets if they get sick.
I definitely would want to return to Greece, I could just imagine how spectacular the Islands must be and with so many of them to choose from. The weather is glorious, temperature in the high 70s and the sun shinning brightly in the clear blue Mediterranean sky.
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