Falling in love with Athens
Abhijit Masih recently travelled to Athens and came back blissed! He shares his travel experience with us.
Greece -- the land of Athena, Poseidon, Zeus, Aphrodite, Plato, Socrates and Apollo. The country made famous on screen in the recent times through films like 300, Mamma Mia and My Big Fat Greek Wedding among others.
A destination seeped in history and featured in the top 10 countries to visit by Lonely Planet. If you have limited time and want to make the most of Greece in just one city, then it has to be Athens.
What to see:
Parthenon at the Acropolis: The ultimate symbol of culture -- The Parthenon is a temple built in 438 BC.
The temple was built for Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. The Parthenon is built on a hill, which is called the Acropolis, which dominates Athens. The strategic location makes it visible from most parts of the city during day and also at night when it is beautifully illuminated.
It is not just the Parthenon that can be found at the Acropolis. There is the Erechtheion, which is believed to be the site where Athena and Poseidon once had a fight over who would be the patron of the city.
There also is the Theatre of Herod Atticus, which many may remember from the Yanni: Live at The Acropolis concert. Further on is the Theater of Dionysus.
Just below the entrance to the Acropolis is the rock of Areopagus. From here you have beautiful views of the city and of the Parthenon.
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Image: View of Athens from the Acropolis
Photographs: Abhijit Masih
Don't miss the Temple of Zeus
The Temple of Zeus at Olympia is dedicated to the chief of the gods -- Zeus. It was completed in 131 AD.
Out of the original columns only 15 stand today. Next to the temple stands the Arch of Hadrian, which was also built around 132 AD. It is believed to be built in honour of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
National Archeological Museum: A must-see for anyone with even the slightest interest in history. A great museum, housing the richest collection of Greek and Egyptian artifacts, some of the objects displayed date back to 6000 BC!
The Academy of Arts: This magnificent building is located right next to the University of Athens. The two columns standing in front of the building support the statues of Athena and Apollo.
Image: Temple of Zeus with the Arch of Hadrian
Be in time for the Change of Guard ceremony at the Parlaiment
The Greek Parliament: The Greek Parliament building is located in the most central part of Athens -- The Syntagma Square or Constitution Square. Time your visit in a way that you witness the changing of the guards, which happens every hour and is a simple ceremony worth watching. The best view of the Square and the Parliament is from the Public Cafe, located on the terrace of the Public Mall.
National Gardens: Just a short walk away from the Parliament Building, between Syntagma Square and the Temple of Zeus is the National Gardens.
It is a serene and peaceful stretch though not very large and has benches on both sides of the pathway. Further down is the Zappeion Hall, named after Evangelos Zappas, who was the founder of the Olympic Games.
The Panathenaic Stadium: Built in the 4th century BC, it is from here that the Olympic flame is delivered to all the Olympic Games. The track around the stadium looks odd as it has two straight stretches with a narrow hairpin bend, which is much sharper than the modern standard track.
Image: The Greek Parliament building is located in the most central part of Athens.
Where to stay
Syntagma or Constitution Square is the most central location as all the tourist destinations are easily accessible from here.
You could walk down to Plaka, Monastiraki or Psirri, which are all famous areas for souvenirs, shopping, flea market and the nightlife.
Apart from the various cafes and restaurants, there is also a McDonalds and a Hard Rock Cafe.
You can pick from the three hotels -- Grande Bretagne, King George Palace and NJV Athens Plaza, which are right next to each other with beautiful views of the square and the Parliament building.
Image: The Parthenon at the Acropolis
What to do
Plaka: This is a popular area amongst the tourists. The houses located here are constructed as per traditional architecture, like they were a century ago.
It is a maze of narrow lanes with residential houses, souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants on both sides. Do not forget to put on your bargaining cap at the souvenir shops.
Nightlife: Even though all tourist brochures would have you believe that Psirri is the place to be to experience the nightlife of Athens, the real hot spot for the young Athenians is Gazi.
Do check out club Socialista in Gazi. It has a considerably large floor, great music, an adequate sized stage for live performances.
I was fortunate enough to catch an astounding performance of the regular band 1550.
They played popular numbers covering U2 and Kings of Leon as well as some foot tapping Greek numbers.
Image: Theater of Dionysos
St Astra Bar and Restaurant: If you can, you should visit this fine dining restaurant with one of the most astonishing views of the Acropolis on one side and the Mount Lycabettus on the other.
The illuminated Acropolis looks divine. Ensure that your camera has a powerful lens to capture the view of the Acropolis. If you do opt for a five-course meal here, do be aware of the Greek generosity in their portions. You might want to go easy on the first and the second course to have space for the dessert.
Mamacus: An upscale restaurant serving traditional Greek cuisine. The ambience is lovely, with a tad over indulgence of white. The only thing missing was some live traditional music. Do ask for Ouzo -- the local drink, which is smoother than Raki (Turkish local tipple) and Feni in Goa.
Psirri: If you are looking to experience the essence of Greek hospitality, cuisine and culture, you must take a walk through Psirri.
The lanes are lined with numerous traditional restaurants.
As per local Athenian suggestion and of my own experience the best among them is the Palio Gramophono (The Old Gramophone).
Brilliant ambience, delicious food and fantastic service. The two live musicians were brilliant and performed without a break for more than two hours.
'Efharisto Athina, Sagapo'
A few pointers:
The ride from the airport to Central Athens by taxi would take you approximately 40 minutes. The ride will cost you around 40 Euros including toll. For the adventurous few, you could also take the Metro, which would cost 6 Euros.
There are two sightseeing tour companies, which operate the hop-on-hop-off bus service and cover all the important spots. Go for the yellow bus which is cheaper and the tickets are valid for 24 hours from purchase.
Avoid the taxis for short distances. The places tend to seem distant on the map, which may not be the case. Enjoy the walks through Plaka, Monastiraki and Psirri.
Athens is an enchanting city. I had the following to say on my way back -- Efharisto Athina, Sagapo ('Thank you Athens, I love you'). Hope you do, too.
Image: The Hadrian Arch