This first full day in Athens was probably our most favorite day of the whole vacation. After sleeping in, we took a walk through Syntagma Square, passed a surprising amount of graffiti, a KFC and a McDonalds and found a fantastic local pastry shop with a wide variety of sweet and savory pastries for brunch – hello spanikopita and baklava! The shop also had a full coffee bar including a traditional Greek coffee which we ordered without hesitation that morning and every morning after. I don’t think the Greeks always have their coffee this way but we were tourists and wanted to enjoy the whole experience. The waitress explained that the coffee is made with sun and/or fire (it was difficult to understand) and it came to the table on a pretty copper tray in a small copper pitcher with a long handle. The copper pitcher often had ashes stuck to the sides of it like it was actually sitting in embers outside. The coffee was of a powdered type so the trick was to swirl around the coffee by the long handle, then pour out what you would drink into the cup. A shot of rose liquor and a rose loukoumi (a kind of gummy-candy) also came with the tray. We were on vacation so hey, aperitifs in the morning? If I must.
After brunch we took a walk through some of the old part of the city to the Acropolis and passed many bustling eateries and shops selling all kinds of local goods. We were supposed to be meeting our guide for a walking tour of the Acropolis but he was a little late and we were a little lost but we found each other and started off. From that point on we were given a private lesson in Greek history, art, and culture while walking through the oldest part of Athens. Our guide knew so much and had so much to say it was hard to remember everything – so hard that I forgot his name, but I would highly recommend the Private walking tour of the Acropolis and New Acropolis Museum on Viator. Our guide was a very nice Greek man who spoke excellent English, was a Professor of Greek Archeology and Art and directed a theater group that performed ancient Greek plays, he even got to do a play in the Theatre of Dionysus! (built sometime prior to 330 b.c. and still used today). His background in archeology, history, art and theatre all came together in a beautiful way so that he spoke with passion, humor and insight. He pointed out spots over the city from the Acropolis and told us about the historical battles that were fought there, we walked around the Parthenon and he told us about different archeological features and the history behind them and then he took us to the New Acropolis Museum, where much of the original artifacts, friezes and statues are kept.
When we visit museums, we enjoy trying to appreciate the art and history but nothing compares to going through a museum with a knowledgeable guide. For one thing, you get a better sense of what you’re looking at and also, with limited time, a guide can help show you around to the most important things that you wouldn’t want to miss. The highlight for all of us were “the ladies” as our guide reverently called them. The Caryatids are a group of six females, carved of marble, that hold up the roof of one side of the Erechtheion. The Erechtheion was named after a legendary king, King Erechteus, and is considered the most sacred part of the Acropolis since it served as a Temple to the Goddess Athena and several other lesser gods. According to our guide* (I wasn’t able to verify this but I liked the story anyway), the ladies were carved to resemble the women of Sparta in their dress and hairstyles because it was expected that the Spartan army would be coming to Athens and the Athenians did not want their buildings destroyed. The Athenians thought that by paying an homage on their sacred Acropolis to the Spartans that maybe their temples wouldn’t be torn down. Apparently, it worked, that is up until the 1800’s when Lord Elgin of Britain stole one of the ladies (and many other marbles of the Parthenon) and took them back to Britain where they remain today. Our guide was a bit…passionate on this topic. He and many other Greeks feel it is past the time that Britain should have returned the stolen artifacts and I can see his point.
After the museum, our guide continued his tour to the restaurant where he dropped us off for dinner (which was included with the tour). We enjoyed the food and wine, the view was great and the day as a whole was fantastic. If you’re not into art or history, this tour isn’t for you but if you’re even a little interested, it was only four hours and was 100% worth it. We would do it again, just to try to catch the stuff we missed the first go-around.
Back at the hotel and starting to feel the effects of jet-lag, we took some time in the hotel sauna and called it a night. Next up – Delphi!