Wednesday, March 26, 2014

This is Athens 2014

9 years ago, me and my girlfriend was deciding between Greece or Russia for our backpacking trip.  In the end, Russia won and Greece was forever forgotten as the place that might have been.  Until now.  Luck has it that I won the lucky draw to fly to Greece for a 2 week business trip during March, which was not the peak season but weather was alright.  Woohoo! What goes around comes around eh?

Graffiti walls
Impression of Athens - You can literally FEEL the economic turmoil in the city.  Looking around, the buildings are all half done, dilapidated, rundown.  Graffiti graced the walls of the streets and buildings. That's not a bad thing artistically.  But being in this city, you KNOW they are experiencing financial trouble.  People are just happy having work, no matter what.  Taxis lined the city, empty and eager to have their first customers.  Comparatively, Greece or rather Athens is a lot cheaper than the other EU countries!  A 20min taxi ride costs only EUR15 max.  Can you say that for a taxi ride in Germany? Or for that matter, I took a 40min ride in Amsterdam that costs EUR88! The metro system is pretty great.  EUR1.40 for 1 ticket that gets you anywhere you want to go, and free transfer within 90minutes to buses/trams.  That's pretty cool!
Understanding the history of Greece, where greek gods materialised, riches prosper in the BC era, it is a stark contrast to the powerhouse it was centuries and decades ago.  This is a country full of archaelogical history, Greek mythology permeates through and through.  Almost every stones and marbles have their histories dated back to BC.  And this is my experience of my visit in Athens, however short it is.

Of course, Athens and Acropolis are synonymous.  Why would you come all the way to Athens and NOT go to visit Acropolis? Heck, you can see the Acropolis whereever you are in Athens city. Even if you did not go to visit the site, you CANNOT say you haven't seen it!  Athens doesn't really have high rise buildings in the city center.  It's financial center (if there still is one) is outside of this city center, so everything is rather flat here.  Hotels are no taller than 8 stories so everything is lower than the Acropolis.  The history of Acropolis - google it.  If you know feng shui, then you know that is the reason why they chose to build temples of worship on top of that rock.  Temples to worship the daughter of Zeus - Athena, the god of war.  Over the years, the sacred place was occupied by Romans, Turks etc and looted by the British etc.  And now, all that is left is the ruins. 
Parthenon is a pale remains of what it once was, coupled with the fact that construction and restoration works are happening since forever, you literally do not see the Parthenon but just cranes and concretes lying around.  It's just me, but sometimes I think, maybe it's best to leave the ruins as it is, for people to truly understand what happened to it, and marvel at the fact that it once was so majestic and now all that is left is half of what it once was, the regret, the history behind it.  Replicas and models should stay in the museum to educate people.  Having cranes and constructions around the actual ruins are unsightly and really just downgrade the experience a little.  I'm all for preserving them, but recreating them?  On the actual site? I'm not sure.  Just doesn't feel real anymore does it?  Imagine 30 years later, you visit the Parthenon all nicely built up as it once was and you would think wow, yea that's it.  Can you really appreciate the history behind it, the workmanship behind it? Cos a recreation would be made using modern technology, not how the ancient people just stacked the stones together using geometry and science.  But enough of preaching.  To each his/her own.  I like my ruins/historical artifact rustic and original.
Dionysus Theater
Back to Acropolis.  It is a HUGE site, that being said, you can of course do it in one day depending on what you want to see and get out of it.  The main site is Parthenon Acropolis site, where basically it is concentrated in one area.  Getting up, going around take no more than 1-1.5 hour.  The all in ticket price is EUR12 which gives you access to the main site, the Olympus of Zeus, the Agora sites and some other small ones.  Once there, you can choose to hire an independent guide.  Not sure how much that costs, cos I didn't get one.  It's a good idea if you are a group to share the cost as they will tell you the history and stories behind which would make for a more interesting and meaningful visit.
It's a climb up to the top but nothing strenous.  Along the way you are greeted with the view of Athens.  Up at the top, you will find yourself surrounded by tourists.  March is not really the peak season but the weather was great and sunny and so tourists were all out.  Still not overly crowded.

The excavation
Just across the Acropolis is the New Acropolis Museum.  This is not included in the all in ticket and costs EUR5 to enter.  In there you will see all the artifacts from the Acropolis.  They are currently excavating the underground to build a pathway for visitors to walk through the real archaelogical site.  Not sure when that will be completed but once done I think it will be rather awesome.  The museum is very interesting and I would highly recommend a visit.  It tells you stories of the Greek God historys and there is a video show of the Parthenon history as well! Give yourself about 45mins to tour the museum. 
Just opposite the Acropolis is the Temple of Zeus.  It is a big site but really it is just a few pillars of ruins.  This site does not have the construction going on as in Acropolis and is an easy 15mins visit.
Temple of Zeus
After which you could weave your way through the narrow streets of Plaka, Psiri where cafes and small shops lined the streets.

Another nice site to visit would be the Lycabettus Hill.  Ignore the hotel reception who advice you against walking up the hill (saying it would take you 1 hour) and take the cable car instead.  The walk up took me only 20 minutes and it is really not as hard as they made it out to be.  And anyway I couldn't find the cable car station!  My hotel was situated along Alexandra Ave so it was an easy 30min walk from my hotel to the base where I started my climb.  Up at the top you have a couple of cafes and restaurants where you can sit and enjoy the view of Athens.  From the top you can also see Acropolis from afar.  Really it is not THAT hard to NOT see Acropolis.  This makes for a nice short hike away from the bustle of the center.  There is an open air theater and during summer time, there are concerts held there outdoors.  Would be pretty cool!
Lycabettus Hill
I took another day trip outside of Athens down south to Sounion to visit the Temple of Poseidon.  As you know Poseidon is associated with water so obviously his temple is built along the coast!  There is an orange KTEL bus that goes from Athens to Sounion, running from 830am, once every 2 hours, last bus out at 430pm.  Coming back from Sounion is around 12 noon, also once every 2 hours last bus back at 6pm.  This is the coastal route, which is the recommended one.  There is also an inland route but the last bus back is also around 6-ish.  So unless you drive, you would not be able to enjoy the sunset.  The trip took just 2 hours and costs EUR6.30 each way.  My hotel is just located opposite the terminal bus stop which was very convenient.  They also stop along the way in the city center.

Temple of Poseidon

I must say I love this site the most.  First, the scenery of coastal and water already took my heart.  The temple is not as majestic as Parthenon.  In fact it was a little like Temple of Zeus but just the location was good enough!  As usual, there was construction going on.  You could walk around the little hill to the edges and you are literally on the southern most tip of the Greek mainland!  The entrance fee is EUR4.  Sometimes you wonder, why do I pay so much to see just 6-8 pillars.  But it goes to the preservation work so I do hope they spend it wisely. 
That pretty much marks my trip in Athens.  Oh and the food.  Yea it is a lot of cheese (especially feta cheese) and bread...  And I did try the local alcohol - Ouzo, Raki, Mastiha and such.  They are strong!  Even the wines are strong.  Yes it was wine and dine almost every night in Greece.  Generally the locals are pretty friendly and nice.  Well, except maybe some creepy Greek men who seem to be lurking around targeting Asians. Ok I'm not trying to sound racist or anything, but seriously I have had 3 encounters.  And it does seem to me that their eyes brighten up when they see an Asian female or they get really interested when they see an Asian female face.  Obviously they don't when they see a Causasian female face who is equally young and beautiful. 
Next up Mykonos!