There are some things that everyone commonly associates with the Greeks: feta cheese, Ouzu, opa!, and big, fat, obnoxious weddings. I admit that these were among the few things I knew about the Greek culture. With my limited knowledge of the country based on stereotypes and news reports about its once faltering economy, I was excited to spend part of my spring break exploring the country that brought us Plato and Socrates and some of the most epic landmarks in world.
Friday afternoon I arrived in the Greek capital of Athens to begin the first of only three days in the city. Unfortunately, the group of us on the trip ran into an immediate problem as the buses were on strike. Only there a few minutes and already I recognized a similarity between Greece workers and their Mediterranean peers in Italy. With no other options but an expensive cab ride or the metro, the five of us lugged our luggage to the train and spent nearly an hour commuting to our hotel. By the time we arrived there it was already 4:00 local time, and thus we were starving. This only meant one thing: time to eat. The perfect cure: Greek salads with local olive oil, plump tomatoes, crispy cucumbers, and, of course, feta cheese.
After our “lunch,” it was already 6:00 o’clock in the evening. We decided to spend the evening browsing around the local shops and eyeing all the beautiful silver jewelry. When the rain decided to come down, we waited out the thunder and lightning in a warm bar/cafe for an evening nightcap.
We knew heading into this trip that our only day in Athens was going to be packed with activities. First on our list: the Acropolis. After four metro stops, the five of us stood in front of the nearly 2000 year old ruins. Notably, last week I saw the ancient ruins of Rome, so in less than one week I have explored two of the world’s most ancient sites. Buying a ticket for the Acropolis provided not only access to “the highest city,” but also visits to the Roman Forum, ancient Agora marketplace, the Parthenon, Hadrian’s Library, and Zeus’ Temple. Everything was absolutely spectacular. Although parts of the Acropolis and Parthenon had scaffolding, the condition of the monuments was astounding. After 2000 years, wars, natural disasters, and man-made damage, the sites still stand tall among the rocky hills of Athens.
The Parthenon had a considerable amount of scaffolding on its outside facade, but one side shows the beauty and achievement of the original structure. The Parthenon was built as a monument to the goddess Athena, who the Greeks worshipped as their protector. I was surprised to learn that the elaborate temple required only eight years of construction and today it is the most remaining surviving structure of ancient Greece.
Walking through ancient Greece was like taking a walk back in time. Everywhere I looked, my eyes latched onto something from B.C.; even more amazing is the fact that the structures stand amidst what is now a modern city. Although somewhat dirty and not nearly as lively as some of the other European countries I have explored, Athens certainly has its own attitude and unique identity. Like the Italians, the Greeks always seem to know be on a mission. They talk loudly and feverishly and do not have much appreciate for those who try to interpret them. Yet, most of the Greeks do speak English and were able to provide us with the help when the group of us were in desperate need of directions. The Greek men were also far less annoying and clingy than the Italian men. Our group expected cat calls and annoying whistles and stares, but the Greeks were more respectful, or at least quiet, than their Mediterranean counterparts.
After our exploration to the ruins of classical Greece, our group decided to watch the tradition of the changing of the guards at the Grecian Parliament Building. The hourly ceremony reminded me of the practice at Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; one of the major differences, however, is the outfits. The Greeks costumes are not nearly as elaborate as those worn by the Swiss Guards at the Vatican (see right), but they come in a close second. I planned on posting a video of the tradition, but, unfortunately, WordPress will not allow me unless I upgrade my blog, so you will just have to take my word that it was quite an entertaining five minutes.
The weathermen had predicted rain for the day, but as my pictures reveal, the weather was absolutely beautiful for my time exploring the ancient city. Though I do not know when I will be returning, my short stay in Athens has me looking forward to any opportunity for a future trip.