September 1, 2011 – The Ancient City of Athens
The Birthplace of Western Civilization! The Parthenon! The Acropolis! Needless to say, I was extremely excited to see Athens. Along with the Hagia Sophia, The Parthenon was another building I’ve imagined visiting my entire life and this trip was going to help me fulfill that check box. SWEET.
The morning of our arrival in Athens, we woke up already there. It was interesting to find ourselves already in a brand new place and really not have a clue where we were. At the time, I didn’t think you could see Ancient Athens from where we were – I discovered I was wrong, after getting back from our excursion. The port for Athens is known as Piraeus and it would be like driving from Long Beach to Downtown LA in terms of comparable distances. The first order of business was a bus ride along the Piraeus coastline along with commentary from our tour guide, who knew the ins and outs of Athens, that’s for sure. I couldn’t tell you much at all about what I saw writing about it nearly a year later. Luckily I’ve captioned most photos as applicable.
The approach to Athens clearly indicates that it’s basically just another big city, much like you’d see in the U.S. or in most parts of Europe. It’s not particularly picturesque and kinda pedestrian, if you permit my blase attitude. Only when you get close to the ancient areas do you start to see the “money shots” if you will. Once in the downtown area about 45-60 minutes later, you can start looking out the window and having your mind blown. The ancient quarter is awesome. The Acropolis is truly a sight to see, and can be seen from miles away, as it is a big hill crowned with ancient historical buildings. Throughout the rest of the city are scattered other majestic sights, like ancient Olympic stadiums, ruins of temples, amphitheaters, other historical hills….you could probably spend another day enjoying the sights. At a leisurely pace. Beyond that, Athens is a typical bigger-than-medium dirty city. Nothing wrong with that, but it kind of clashes with the other island-ic parts of Greece where it’s quaint and staggeringly gorgeous (see Santorini and Mykonos).
Leaving Piraeus for Athens
After getting driven around the ancient part of the city, our walking tour of the Acropolis began. As it also did for THOUSANDS of people. It’s not surprising this is a hugely popular place to go. Yet when it’s balls hot outside, the last thing you want to do is be crammed with every other foreigner and move at a snails pace. Alas, that is the price to pay to experience the divine. 🙂 You basically queue up in a long crowded line up the steps of the Acropolis, funneling through a central ancient gate that then opens up on the expanse of the Acropolis proper. It’s a fantastic view though, as you go ever higher and get an ever better view of Athens.
Climbing the Acropolis
But yeah, once you get through that gate, that’s when it was all worth it….as there’s the mother-bleepin’ PARTHENON. It really is staggering and impressive and not-at-all disappointing. It is sad to see the condition it’s in, but if you read up on the history of the building (which is entertainingly told in “The Secret Lives of Buildings”), it’s amazing there’s anything left of it all, what with all the explosions that have taken place in it. Larry & I walked around the site, taking it all in. At least up here there is room to breathe even if it’s still crowded. Yet it was really really hot that day (go figure, it’s hot in early September in the Med!). We only had so much time and then it was time to rejoin the group bus, as we then were headed to the “tourist” quarter called the Plaka.
The One and Only Parthenon!!!
The Olympics Stadium
At the Plaka district, we were given a few hours on our own to just explore the area and buy souvenirs/crap. It was also up to us to get some food, so Larry & I wandered into the heart of the Plaka ville and found a Greek restaurant to indulge in some touristy samplings of Greek food. At that point, we were ravenous and the food and Greek beer were AMAZING. After getting a bit of energy restored, I had wanted to visit the New Acropolis Museum. The museum is brilliantly designed as it is built on top of ancient ruins where the old Plaka city used to be…but what’s cool is that the museum is literally propped above the ruins, and the floors are glass so you can look down and see where there are excavations occurring. The museum is also situated at the foot of the Acropolis and aligned the same way as the Parthenon. Why is that neat? Because the museum has all the original remaining sidings of the Parthenon in order to better preserve them. Basically, you’re seeing fake friezes on the Parthenon structure as there’s little way to protect them out in the open effectively without shutting the Parthenon down. So you get to see the structure and a fairly idealized form of the remains, but the real stuff is in the museum. It’s a great way to see all sorts of Greek antiquities, but don’t take a picture inside there! NOT ALLOWED, as I found out. Oops. Lots of great stuff to see there, and it’s air-conditioned. Hallelujah. Also very interesting are the many scale models of the Acropolis throughout the last few thousand years, through it’s initial construction, it’s transition into different purposes and religions, and how it came to look the way it does now.
Plaka and the New Acropolis Museum
I was very happy to have finally visited the Acropolis for myself. It’s a very worthwhile thing to see and experience – I would like to have visited other spots throughout Athens, but honestly, I don’t feel like I missed out on too much. Maybe one day we’ll be able to swing back through there. After our free time was up, we jumped back on the bus and drove the much quicker highway route back to our gigantic ship. It fairly quickly took off at that point, and from our room we could watch the whole process unfold as the ship un-docked. There were some hot dock workers to look at too…that wasn’t bad at all.
Back at Equinox
One thing about our cruise experience itself that was a bit frustrating at first was the dining experience. No one ever showed up to our 8-person table! Ever. So we were the lepers, apparently. It wasn’t this night, but I think maybe the next when they finally sat us at a 4-person square table that 2 people could sit at and not look stupid. We didn’t eat every night at the main dining room, but let me tell you, the food there was fantastic. The waiters, servers, and sommelier were amazing. A very great experience, that is for sure, once we finally got our own table. I think it’s just that people now have different options, including other restaurants throughout the ship, along with a Flex Eating thing that sells out immediately long before the ship sails, in which it’s like a restaurant and you can eat just with your party. I think a lot of people don’t like the idea of having to eat with the same people every night, especially if you end up hating them. Ah well….their loss, as Larry & I are AWESOME dinner conversationalists.
2011 Mediterranean Trip Pics Index
- Rome: Flying there, Day 1 – Colosseum, Ancient City
- Rome: Day 2 – Vatican City, Trastevere, Nighttime Walk
- Rome: Day 3 – Castel Angelo, Pantheon, Misc Rome
- Mediterranean: Day 1 – Leaving Civitivecchia
- Mediterranean: Day 2 – First Day at Sea
- Mediterranean: Day 3 – Santorini, Greece
- Mediterranean: Day 4 – Athens, Greece
- Mediterranean: Day 5 – Second Day at Sea
- Mediterranean: Day 6 – Istanbul, Turkey Day 1
- Mediterranean: Day 7 – Istanbul, Turkey Day 2
- Mediterranean: Day 8 – Ephesus & Kusadasi, Turkey
- Mediterranean: Day 9 – Mykonos, Greece
- Mediterranean: Day 10 – Third Day at Sea
- Mediterranean: Day 11 – Capri, Sorrento & Pompeii