It is probably a hidden blessing that our trip is coming to an end, as we’ve eaten more than we ever have on vacation and have officially turned into oompa loompas. It hasn’t helped that the food in general has actually been quite diverse and spectacular, so we just had to sample a little of everything. For 14 days straight.
Today, we purchased a 30 Euro ($35) pass that could get us into all of the major historical sites in Athens for our crash course in Greek history. We started at the Ancient Agora, the public meeting area and marketplace of the ancient Greeks. It was a huge complex that was frankly a bit hard to interpret until the end, when we reached the museum which had some explanations. Nonetheless, it was certainly impressive to see how advanced the 4th century BC Greeks were in not only building impressive temples, but also in developing technologies for drainage and tracking time.
Next up, we visited the Roman Agora a short walk away, the newer marketplace area that essentially replaced the Ancient Agora around the 1st century BC. This was the area that was lit up for the political rally last night, so apparently it is still sometimes used as a public meeting area. Can you imagine one of our US political rallies taking place in such an ancient setting with so much history? I certainly can’t. There were a few sites here, namely the entrance arch, an ancient mosque, and the Tower of the Winds. The Tower of the Winds was a really cool structure that was built by an astrologer and actually served as a water clock.
After that, it was time to visit the main event, the Acropolis. Kind of like Athens’ North Star, we could see the Acropolis from anywhere, but to walk around and see each of the sites was awe-inspiring. Named after the rock it was built upon, the Acropolis is actually a complex of buildings, with the Parthenon as the most widely recognized edifice. Strangely, I had already seen bits and pieces of the Parthenon as major parts of it have sadly been taken by others and housed in the British Museum and Louvre. Of course, that still didn’t take away from how massive and impressive it was to see in person. It’s only midway through a massive renovation project to help reconstruct pieces it’s lost to natural disaster, erosion, looting, and age. Built in the 4th century BC, the Parthenon, along with many other buildings of the Acropolis, was building in honor of the patron goddess of Athens, Athena. We spent a good amount of time here visiting and understanding the buildings and temples here, depicted in more detail in the pics below.
Our history lesson far from over, we needed a mental break and were starving so we found a cute gyros joint and refueled here briefly while dodging scary Greek pigeons. They’re no different from the ones in NYC but I can’t seem to escape them!
After lunch, we took a bit of a walk in the blistering heat and visited the Temple of Zeus. Unlike the islands, there was no Mediterranean breeze to cool us off and you could really feel the sun coming down on you. Here, we stopped at Hadrian’s Arch, built by the people to commemorate their beloved emperor Hadrian. It’s believed that the arch delineates where ancient Athens ends and modern Athens begins. One side facing ancient Athens cleverly read, “This is Athens, the city of Theseus” while the other side facing the modern city read “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.” The Temple of Zeus, once the largest temple in Greece, was dedicated to the king of all gods. Once a formidable structure, it fell to ruins after the fall of the Roman Empire. Its 104 columns fell victim to ransacking and were used for construction of nearby churches and mosques, and now there are only 15 original columns remaining.
Our final stop of our self-guided historical tour was of the Panathenaic stadium. Host to the first modern Olympics games in 1896, the stadium had quite the storied history. It was actually first constructed in 330 BC for the Panathenaic games, the Olympics before they became the Olympics. In addition to being used for gladiator fights and concerts, it has most recently been used as a site for the 2004 Olympic Games, as the finish line for the Athens Marathon, and was the last point from where the Olympic flame handoff to the host nation took place.
By this point, we were completely tuckered out from a day full of marathon sightseeing, so we meandered back to our hotel just in time to catch our favorite feature, the sunset – one last time – from our rooftop over a bottle of wine.
We were super torn about our last meal in Greece. I had made a reservation at the heralded, 2-Michelin star restaurant Spondi, but the menu looked just alright. I’m certain the food would’ve been knock-your-socks-off, but it was pan-European/French and we craved an authentic meal. I also know Doug’s love for gyros, and since neither of us was too jazzed about Spondi’s menu, we decided to do a makeshift bar and gyro crawl through Souvlaki Lane and beyond, to try as much as we could. We were on our honeymoon, after all, which meant we were still perfecting the art of compromise 🙂 So in return for cancelling our big reservation, I negotiated a meal at Eleven Madison back in NYC upon our return. Everybody wins!
We started at a bar called The Clumsies, a unique 2-level mixology spot that even recreated a bedroom for lounging upstairs. It recently made the World’s 50 Best Bars list (by Drinks International) so we were excited to try their concoctions, aptly named for the accidents that inevitably occur when experimenting with different flavors. I tried the Jenna Says, which had olive oil-infused vodka, passion fruit puree, and aphrodisiac elixir (olives, tomato, ginseng, rosemary). After one drink, we moved on to Souvlaki Lane to eat gyros at O Thanasis, the biggest restaurant on the block. While we had the intent to share a pork gyro and beer, even the gyro was a TON of food and we were pretty full after. But onward…we should’ve stayed on that block if we wanted more gyros, but instead made the mistake of venturing away so we ended up grabbing some very random bites at a restaurant called Eat at Milton’s. Not only was the name not authentic, neither was the food, as it was modern fusions of international flavors, but it belonged to a Michelin chef and was pretty tasty so we were ok with it. We tried to go to the oldest bar in Athens next, Brettos Bar, which I swear was also the smallest bar in Greece. Once we finally located it, after getting super lost, it was packed to the brim so we took a pass.
How did we want to end our trip? Since Brettos was a fail, we took one last walk through Monastiraki and stopped at none other than Lukumades again. Not one to do repeat visits on a trip, I had some unfinished business with their menu, so today I had the donuts with white chocolate sauce, strawberry cheesecake ice cream, and Oreo crumbs. I have to say it wasn’t as good as the OG, but I certainly didn’t hate it!
So now you know it’s possible to jam Athens into one full day. While there was certainly plenty else to do in town, we were happy we spent one extremely productive day here so that we could extend our time relaxing on the islands. We left deciding that Greece was one of our favorite places to visit and already started planning our return, perhaps to celebrate a future anniversary. Tomorrow, it’s back to NYC and back to reality, but ten pounds heavier and ten shades darker with a ton of fond memories from our honeymoon.