Welcome to Athens
On day seven we had to get up incredibly early to meet in the lobby by 0545 for our flight to Athens, which left at 0845. The hotel in Rome even gave us breakfast in bags since it was so early. We made our way to the airport and through security without any issues. Our flight was a domestic flight since both countries are in the European Union. It was nice because we didn’t have to take off our shoes!
Arriving in Athens
The myth surrounding the naming of Athens is an interesting one. From the myth, the land was originally founded by a half-man, half-snake creature named Cecrops who wanted to name the city Cecropia. The gods were jealous and wanted the land to be named after them. Poseidon, the sea god, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom were the strongest contestants. To solve this problem, Zeus decided each could give a gift to the city. The city would then be named after the god that gave the best gift. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident offering water and a lifetime without drought to the citizens. However, the water was salty. Athena planted the seed from an olive tree. This grew into a beautiful tree offering food, oil, and firewood. Because of this, Athena was named the winner, thus the land became Athens.
After landing in Athens, we made our way, by bus, to our hotel, The President Hotel. It is the sixth tallest building in Athens. We waited in the lobby for a little while before checking into our rooms early. We were now split up into quads. The room was tiny, and they squeezed three twin beds and a cot into the small space. We had about 90 minutes before our Athens tour, so we grabbed a bite to eat at Erythros Grill across the street from the hotel. We also jumped another time zone and were one more hour ahead. Jason told us on the way to the hotel that the majority of meat eaten in Greece is pork, not lamb, which is more of an American thing. Lamb is mostly consumed on holidays and special occasions, with chicken being second to pork as the meat most consumed.
A tour of Greece
Jason gave us metro tickets that we could use for 24 hours, and we took the train downtown to meet our guide. The Greek metro train was incredibly clean and even had light-up maps. Quite a step up from the metro trains here in the United States. They announced all of the stops in both English and Greek.
Our tour started at the Hellenic Parliament building, where we saw the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. The Evzones, or special guards, who watch over the tomb must meet specific requirements. These include height, physical conditioning, and psychological state as they must undergo intense training to join the Presidential Guard. They are then required to stand perfectly still for one full hour. They do this three different times in a 48 hour period. For more information about the guards and their uniforms, click here. The changing of the guard occurs every hour on the hour, but there is a special ceremony on Sundays at 1100.
The National Garden
We then made our way through the National Garden, where you can see trees that have been planted from all over the world. As we exited the garden, we caught a glimpse of the Panathenaic Stadium. Immediately, I knew what we had to do during our free time the following day. Read more about our incredible day here. We walked past the excavation of the Roman baths at Third Ephorate of Ancient Antiquities and the Temple to the Olympian Zeus before eventually making our way towards the Acropolis.
Our guide gave us a tour up to the top of the Acropolis where we were able to see a number of ruins including Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Temple of Athena Nike, as well as, a great view of the Ancient Agora (a Greek gathering place) and Areopagus Hill (the high court of appeal). Areopagus Hill or Mars hill is popular for two reasons. The first being the location of a speech delivered by the Apostle Paul in the Bible. Secondly, in Greek mythology, the God of war, Ares, who was also known to the Romans as Mars, was tried in the court for the murder of Poseidon’s son. This is where the hill gets its name.
After making our way up to the top, we finally made our way through the Propylaea (entryway) which opens up to the Parthenon (temple honoring Athena to the right) and the Erechtheion (temple honoring Athena and Poseidon to the left). We then had some free time to walk the grounds. We were also able to overlook the Theatre of Dionysus. It was incredibly hot and humid out during this part of the trip, which is apparently unusual. The overpriced slushes at the exit were a wonderful treat.
After leaving the Acropolis, we parted ways with our guide, and Jason offered to give us an informal tour of the Old Town and over to Monastiraki; where you can find a 2000-year-old flea market. Travel tip** Word on the street is Kostas (there are two: one near Monastiraki and another near Syntagma) serves the best souvlaki in Athens. Unfortunately, the one near Monastiraki closes at 1700, and we were too late. By this time, we were incredibly hungry. We made our way over to Savvas Restaurant. We ate on the rooftop and enjoyed incredible views of the Acropolis.
***Pack less by doing laundry while traveling***
We took the metro home, showered, and spent the night at a local laundry mat, which was only two blocks away from our hotel. It was 2.50 euro to wash with soap included, and 0.50-1.00 euro to dry. The next day was a full free day, and we had lots of things planned.