Our flight landed in Athens around 8am, and we had about 16 hours in the city before we hopped on another flight to the island of Kefalonia to meet up with Marino and Maria. With a full day in Athens but very little sleep under our belts, we hit the ground lagging, and spent much of the day walking around with a dazed look on our faces. The 95 degree weather and blazing sun didn’t help.
Our first stop in Athens was Syntagma Square, where we began our walk into the Plaka; the quaint yet touristy neighborhood of pedestrian roads leading up to the Acropolis. Tired and hot, we had no real plan but attempted to follow Rick Steve’s walking tour of the city, omitting things we weren’t so interested in. Rather shortly, we wound up on Cathedral Square, where the Mitropolis church sits. This being the biggest Orthodox Church in Greece, I was rather taken aback at how similar it seemed to the Catholic Churches I have seen throughout Europe, and how different it seemed from the Orthodox churches I had seen in both Bosnia and Bulgaria.
From the square, we meandered down Adrianou Street where we were bombarded with souvenir shops selling every variation of knock-off Greek pottery, religous icons, t-shirts, and good luck charms in the shape of the male reproductive organ located in the lower abdominal area.:)
Following Rick’s advice, we headed over to the Arch of Hadrian and Temple of Olympian Zeus. Hadrian was a Roman emperor who inherited the city in AD 131, after the Romans had taken control of Greece. He built the archway and temple, which at the time was considered Hadrianopolis. The ruins were impressive, though on such a dry and hot day, I would have preferred some trees for shade. To be fair, I am a bit of a snob when it comes to visiting ancient ruins of any civilization.
With the heat becoming more intense, we opted to find “Souvlaki Row” where we could grab lunch, a coke, and a rest. We opted for a place called Thanasis and each ordered the pork souvlaki. Yummy!
After lunch, we both fell into a bit of a food coma. Add in the heat and lack of sleep, and we roamed through the ancient streets of Athens like two Zombies on the eve of the apocalypse. We finally decided we would attempt the Ancient Agora while we still had a bit of energy left, then find a place to rest our eyes for a bit before what would surely be the highlight of Athens; the Acropolis.
Our first stop was the Agora Museum where we were in awe of the “Stele of Democracy”; a 4th century BC stone tablet that essentially criticized Tyranny. We both got the social studies giddiness at this point.
We also saw the first voting machine, where people would place thin rocks in labeled slates.
Although most visitors head right to the Acropolis, the Agora is equally as interesting in terms of history, if not as well known to visitors. It was here where Socrates and Plato discussed philosophy and politics, and where ancient Athenians went to shop and drink.
After walking in the footsteps of the great Greek philosophers, my favorite ruin was the Temple of Hephaistos. Just up a hill overlooking the rest of the Agora, the temple is extremely well preserved, and I thought, more impressive than the Parthenon. (I know, strong words.)
In addition to walking in the footsteps of ancient Greeks, we found out that it was right outside the Agora, on Mars Hill, where the apostle Paul tried to reach the Greeks with his message of Christianity. Although Paul’s efforts would fail, there was a small church built within the Agora to commemorate him. Built around 1000 AD, the Church of the Holy Apostles is similar to other Orthodox church’s, where the floor plan is a perfect, thick cross.
Feeling about as exhausted as St. Paul must have felt after writing all those letters to the Corinthians, we tried to scope out the map for a park where I could take a little nap before attempting to explore and care about the Acropolis. After a brief snooze on the grass beside the aforementioned cathedral, we finally made our way, very slowly, up the large hill that leads to the Acropolis. At first, I was very impressed, especially as we approached the giant ampitheater that is still in use today for concerts and such. Yet, as we continued to ascend up towards the Parthenon, my eyes focused in on that one thing all tourists hate, the dreaded scaffolding. Although we had timed it right with the sun beaming on the West side of the Parthenon, as it would turn out, this was the side being scaffolded at this particular time. Also, we were a bit overwhelmed with the amount of tourists who were visiting as we had become a bit spoiled having entire UNESCO Heritage sights to ourselves in Bulgaria. Still, the ruins are quite impressive, and just the feeling of standing in the center of history; the place where democracy was formed, gave me all the nerdy feels.
After the Acropolis, there was only one thing left to do before we treated ourselves to wine and Greek salad, and that was climb up Mars Hill and stand where Paul gave his teachings. As luck would have it this time, the lighting of the sun on the Acropolis from the top of the hill made for a perfect place to relax and take it all in.
We were able to enjoy a peaceful hour here before the crowds descended onto the hill and ruined its tranquility. Onwards. As we made our way back into the city, we came across a cafe with about a thousand tables outside, offering up wonderful views of the sunset and the Agora. With two bottles of house wine, Greek Salad, bread and yogurt, we happily allowed the hours to pass before we had to make our way back to the airport and sneak in a few hours of sleep before our early morning flight to Kefalonia.
After a terrible night of sleeping in the aiport, we awoke groggy and confused to catch our 6am flight to Marino’s family’s island. Realizing we would be close to Greece and our friends would be there at the same time, I planned to sneak in a few days here before heading north to England for the final leg of the trip. The 3 days we spent in Kefalonia were wonderfully spent doing absolutely nothing. Well, that’s not true, but it was the most relaxing part of the summer, and perhaps, the best. Marino’s hotel, 9 Muses is stunning to say the least, and the stretch of beach where it lies is the most gorgeous and clear water I have ever seen in my life. Add in the generous hospitality and cherished company of two awesome friends with a splash of their adorable and fun children, and you have yourself a perfect vacation from a vacation.
Our three glorious days in Kefalonia were spent swimming, relaxing on the beach, and, in what was definitely one of the best days of the summer, taking a boat out to explore some of the other beaches near by.
More than the tastes of new foods and learning about history, my favorite part of traveling is always meeting new people. I never cease to be amazed by the incredible hospitality and openness that often comes with making new friends abroad. That said, our little venture to Kefalonia reminded me that you don’t have to travel far to find awesome, kind, and generous people. Sometimes, they are right in your own backyard. You may however, have to travel far to get in some quality time with them.:)