You might have been wondering the destination of our plane from Cologne? Well, none other than Greece! We flew into Thesseloniki and took the train south to the capital, Athens where we are now spending our third night.
Where to begin? When I started to put together a rough outline of my trip to Europe, I wanted to be sure and see Greece as it is a Eurail country and a general place of interest. We had been trying to make it to the Hellinic Republic from the time we visited Italy, thinking that we might take a ferry (which looks easy enough on the map). This mode of transportation turned out to be time consuming and expensive. Our alternative was to book the cheapest round trip airfare to Greece from anywhere in Europe, which happend to be Cologne.
So we made it to Greece. The problem with our round trip ticket was that it was only for five days. We would have liked to see some of the islands but ended up settling on spending the entire time in Athens. Athens contains half of the Greek population, over 6 million people, for which I was mentally prepared for a big city experience (or so I thought).
I always thought of Athens on the same level as Rome -- ancient, classical cities with marvelous ruins. As I mentioned, Rome was magnificent in my opinion. Athens, to put it nicely, is a really big city -- I was reminded of my trip to Santiago in the Dominican Republic. I am very glad to have visited Greece, but I cannot think of a time, where I wanted to be in the middle of the rather quiet wilderness somewhere in northern Idaho, more than when I was wandering the busy streets of Athens.
Having said that, the Acropolis -- the crown jewel of Athens -- was the city's saving grace for me (and probably for lots of people). The hike up the hill to the awaiting ruins takes you out of the noise, cars, scooters, and generally crowded and dirty streets with buildings all around you. As you reach the summit, you are magically displaced, from the Athens of today, to its golden age over 2,000 years ago.
The entire hilltop is clad in white marble. The enterence, the remains of the Temple Athena Nike, welcomes you into history. As soon as you pass through this gateway, you see it, the enduring symbol of ancient Greece, the Parthenon. Even though it is not what it once was, the site of this monument screems of great achievement and still has a great deal of beauty. The pillars are massive, the overall size of the temple is huge -- and to think that it was built in 447 B.C.!
The remains of other temples and buildings, certianly great at one time, sit like skeletons with bones of marble scattered across the landscape. On top of the hill you can look down upon the remains of the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus and the theater Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Also still standing is the interesting Erechtheum with the porch of maidens holding up one celine. At this vantage, you can also begin to see how big current day Athens is... but standing on the steps of the Parthenon while it withstands the test of time... that will make you feel small.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theater, still used today (with renovations I am sure)
The Karyatides statues of the Eleuthereus
Ancient horses carved in marble circa 500 B.C.
Port of Athens, with all the pollution