Posted by: Ciaran | December 24, 2009

Changing places – Athens

Steeped in history, the sprawling city of Athens preserves its magnificent heritage alongside a new metropolis of shops, clubs and bars.  The remarkable fusion of old and new makes it a lively place to be in; as you walk the streets and are hit by the vivid smells of the restaurants and the noise of the people, you are occasionally struck by roadside reminders of antiquity.

I came across this on a busy street...

Athens is a beautiful city to walk around, and there are so many things to see.  One great tip is that if you are a student from the European Union then you can get into all the classic archeological sites for free, so make sure you have an appropriate identity card with you.  I took advantage of this and explored some of the traditional tourist spots around the city.

The Temple of the Olympian Zeus

The ruined Temple of the Olympian Zeus is an astonishing reminder of Ancient Greece.  Its intactness, despite being about 2,600 years old, makes it a must-see attraction.  It is within reasonable walking distance of the city centre, though transport around the city is very easy with the excellent (and cheap as chips) metro system.  Beware, though, the persistent confidence tricksters in the stations around the Acropolis looking to exploit tourists; they don’t take no for an answer very easily, so be as firm as you can.

The Acropolis looms over the city

The walk up to the Acropolis is demanding and best undertaken early in the morning, particularly in the summer.  That way you’ll beat the worst of the queues and be up there before it gets too hot.  The Acropolis dominates the skyline in the city and the sense of anticipation as you approach is acute.  The views on the ascent aren’t too bad either…

Views from the walk to the Acropolis

Just make sure you’ve got a bottle of water, and that you’ve sharpened your elbows for when you get to the entrance itself.  The Greeks are somewhat minimalist with their organisation and it’s a complete cattle market trying to get in, as people push and queue jump and inevitably trip on the uneven surfaces.

Once you’re inside the main part of the site there’s plenty more pushing and shoving and it’s difficult to get an unencumbered view of anything.  However, it is an extraordinary place and the architecture is beautiful – even for someone like me, with a negligible knowledge of it.  I do know, however, that the scaffolding that was on the Parthenon when I was there (and which I think is still there, though am not sure) wasn’t an original feature.

The Parthenon - still under construction..?

And from the seat of an ancient civilisation to the seat of a modern democracy, a walk down the hill and through the city takes you to the Hellenic Parliament in the Old Royal Palace where you can take a stroll around the peaceful gardens behind before amusing yourself by taking silly pictures of the guards.  One day I’ll grow up.

One guard, or two?



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