Athens is a beautiful city. I guess I wasn't really expecting much - or at least wasn't sure what I was expecting - but Athens has just blown me away!
I arrived at around 1:30 on Anzac Day. I went straight to the hostel, dumped my backpack, and after purchasing a day pass for the Metro, headed into the city for some serious sight-seeing!
[a poppy near the Acropolis - how fitting for 25 April]
After arriving at the Akropoli metro station (and buying an extraordinary and fabulously bitter frappe), I couldn't help but laugh at myself when I looked around for a sign that would point me in the direction of the Acropolis. I then turned around to behold the absolutely stunning ruins atop a hill - so high up, in fact, that I have since discovered they can be seen from almost anywhere in Athens! I had a little trouble finding the entrance (something, it turns out, I did often in Athens), and after winding my way past other sites at the Acropolis (including the magnificent Theatre of Herodes Atticus), I eventually found myself at the Parthenon. I didn't expect it, but seeing the Parthenon in person almost brought me to tears. It is just stunning. I also took a moment to reflect on a few things: my pride in myself on being there, my realisation of my utter insignificance... it was a wonderful experience.
[that's one lucky dog]
I then wandered around Ancient Agora for a little while, marvelling at the Church of the Holy Apostles (and its somewhat eerie interior), the Stoa of Attalos (and the amazing statues - Iliad, Odyssey and Aphrodite were among my favourites), and the Temple of Hephaestus.
[The Church of the Holy Apostles]
[The Stoa of Attalos]
[Odyssey and Iliad]
At this point, it was beginning to get a little dark, and I was beginning to get a little hungry, so headed into Plaka in search of some delicious (but preferably cheap) Greek food. I'd read about Eden's Vegetarian Restaurant in the Lonely Planet, but it appears to have closed down. I didn't mind, though, because during my search for the restaurant, I was able to take in a fair bit of Plaka. It is a beautiful suburb. It is very touristy, with souvenir shops and restaurants everywhere you turn, but they are nice souvenir shops and classy restaurants, surrounded by cobblestone streets and pretty, clean buildings. Cars and motorcycles came and went, but it was, for the most part, pedestrian friendly. And then every now and then I'd see a fenced-off area - just another ancient ruin. I wonder if Athenians realise just how lucky they are to be living in such a terrific city!
After much deliberation (such tempting food, but such high prices!) a very charismatic man talked me into taking a seat at the Plaka Taverna where I was to have the "student' set menu. Oh my gosh - €9.50 never tasted so good. Bread, Greek salad, eggplant moussaka, stuffed tomato and then Creme Caramel. I ate every last mouthful and felt hideously ill afterwards, but it was worth it. I had got to talking with the men at the table next to me - Al and Bill from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania - and it was nice just to have a bit of company. When they were leaving, the waiter informed me that they had paid my bill. I was so touched! They said it was "for a young woman's adventure." They re-instilled my faith in fellow travellers.
After finishing my mammoth meal, I waddled back to the Akropoli station and headed back to the hostel. I chatted briefly to my German room mate (whose name I've forgotten, but who I remember comes from Nuremberg because I said "oh yeah, as in the trials?" Awkward, awkward). It turned out she is going to be visiting Thailand in December, so I shamelessly plugged the Elephant Nature Park before heading to bed. I was buggered!
Thursday morning started noisily, with the two room mates who had appeared during the night crashing about. I eventually got up just after 7 and went for a jog. I'd figured out how to get to the nearest park (Areos Park - a cute little area, surrounded by busy streets), and it was easy enough to find, but I had a terrible time finding my way back to the hostel. No one seemed to know where Victor Hugo Street was (perhaps because in Greek it is Victor Ougo Street, and I also took a while to remember the name - not Marco Polo, for instance). I ended up running into the same man twice - the second time he actually went out of his way to take me directly to my street. I was mightily impressed, and Victor (as it turned out to be his name) made me like Athens even more.
After a quick shower in a very cramped cubicle, I headed back into the city in search of a travel agency. I stumbled upon a two-day food fair at Syntagma metro station. What luck - a free breakfast!
The travel agency I was looking for seemed to have closed (I think my Lonely Planet is a little outdated), but did find a bookstore (bought "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini), and eventually did stumble upon some other travel agencies.
I then headed to the Temple of Olympian Zeus and then the Roman Stadium - home of the first modern Olympics.
[Temple of Olympian Zeus]
I walked through the very pretty National Gardens on my way back to Syntagma station, and then stumbled upon a large gathering of tourists in front of the Parliament Building and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. An English travel agent (in Greece to sus out hotels - what a life!) informed me that the Indian president was coming to lay a wreath. And indeed he did. The highlight was, of course, the ridiculous uniforms they make the poor guards wear!
[Parliament Building and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier]
[Now that's just mean...]
I took the train back to the Akropoli, and after going to see the once-grand Theatre of Dionyson, called home and spoke to Mum, Dad, Nan and Da (who apparently had a ball at the Anzac Day march - can't wait for photos!).
I bought the best punnet of strawberries, and after eating about half of its 1kg, doddled over to the Roman Agora - the more recent of the two ancient marketplaces. The Tower of the Winds (a giant weather-vane and sundial) would have been quite spectacular in its day.
I took the train to Omonia and found a fairly dodgy cafe - bu just needed to sit! I spent a good hour pouring over the information I'd received from the travel agencies, and think I've finally got my head around Greece... a little.
On my way back to the hostel I popped into a supermarket and bought a tub of Greek yoghurt - the tub being made out of terracotta. Though it will most likely break within days, I love my little bowl! And I quite enjoyed my "dinner" (of strawberries, yoghurt and free cereal, at 4:30pm) while sitting on the balcony of my empty-but-for-me hostel room. A lovely way to end a great time in Athens!