It was early Sunday morning, and my last few hours in Athens. I made my way out of the hotel and to the metro to catch a glimpse of what everyone, visitor and local, had said I had to make sure to see before I left: the Parthenon.
In an effort to avoid the tour crowds that tend to take over the area later in the morning, I made sure to be the first one there. The climb up the hill was a peaceful one as I walked past the Acropolis museum and bookstore, past the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and up the stone stairs to the temple of Athena.
I sat on a nearby stone, and took it all in. With only a few visitors around, it was easy to admire it all without distraction. That is when I heard the church bells. They seemed to dance through the valley, making their way to the top of hill, their soft welcoming sound bringing a sense of peace with them. I made my way over to admire the rooftops of Athens, with Mount Lycabettus rising proudly above it all. The melody of men chanting hymns from below danced straight into my heart.
It was then that Athens took my breath away.
The days before were spent connecting with the people from this great city, enjoying the weekend festivities, and eating as much Greek food as I could find. I immersed myself in the culture through the Savouring Athens tour with Dopios. Our guide, Giorgio Fou led us on this colorful and flavorful adventure through the streets of Athens and its Central Market, where we tasted everything from herbal teas to local pastries.
An afternoon consisted of walks past Kapnikarea Church and down Ermou street, past residents and tourists enjoying the open-air cafes and hearty lunches. At times it felt overwhelming with so much to see, hear, and do. Days were spent trying to grasp the history, as well the realization that the city is a lot more advanced and better functioning than it has been given credit for. Not sure what to expect when I arrived, my senses were on overdrive almost the entire time I was there.
But, that moment, at the top of Acropolis Hill on a quiet, cloudy Sunday morning, I felt it all come together. All the experiences beautiful wrapped in a way that my emotions could comprehend.
Athens is complicated, in a brave, strong, beautiful and vulnerable way. It has survived the punches and isn’t defining itself by its struggles, but by its successes and its ability to move on. The pride of this city stood out everywhere I went, but never in a way that clouded the hospitality and generosity offered to me. The intense passion of the people was fascinating to me and yet, so culturally similar to my Latina roots.
It’s impossible for me to think of Athens and not smile at the memory of my last few hours there. To really appreciate Athens, you can’t just do Athens. You have to allow yourself to be in it. You have to allow it to awaken all your senses and you have to slow down and listen. You have to look beyond the surface to get to the heart of city and allow it to pull at your heartstrings, as it inevitably will.
Where I stayed
My hotel was the The Golden Age of Athens. I found it comfortable with all the basic amenities, from complimentary breakfast in the morning to a comfortable bar for gatherings and meetings. It was centrally located too. 30-minute walk could get you to sites like the Library of Hadrian and the Monastiraki Square. But the train station a couple of blocks away can connect you to any place you wanted to be in and around Athens in no time.
Inner city metro in Athens is fabulous. Lines are on a color-code system (red lines, blue lines, green, etc.) making transfers and connections an easy process. You can buy passes or single trips, and the transit maps they offer at the hotels and tourist offices are wonderfully done and easy to read.
Word of caution, watch your bag, especially if traveling during rush hour. Pick pockets are a big problem, just like they are in many heavy tourist centers around the world. Don’t let your bag hang on your side, or on your chair when at restaurants. Leave valuables, including passport, in your hotel safe and never, ever carry all your cash with you. There’s no need to be nervous over this tidbit. It is one I would recommend when traveling in New York City, Barcelona, Paris, or anywhere else. It’s not about being paranoid, just about being safe and savvy.
Railways also get you to the suburbs and ferries to the connecting islands. I wouldn’t rent a car in Athens, but I might consider it outside of the major city. Taxis in the city are pricier and not really necessary. I took a cab to the airport from my hotel, but if I hadn’t decided to tour the city till the last possible minute, I could have easily taken the subway as there is a line that takes you directly to it.
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