Athens completely captured my heart!
During the winter, I visited Athens for two nights, which was my first trip to Greece. It completely blew me away! Athens was totally different from my expectations; instead of a sleepy city on the coast, I discovered a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with so much more to offer than just ancient architecture.
I loved exploring the winding alleyways of the Psirri and Plaka neighbourhoods, full of beautiful old buildings, incredible street art, and tons of trendy bars and cafes. There was amazing vintage shopping around the older districts, especially at the flea market in Monastiraki, which was heaving on Sunday morning and full of cool, quirky products from antiques and art to cameras and old comic books. I adored the coffee, especially the innocent looking Greek frappes which pack a serious punch and left me buzzing for hours, plus the loukoumades drizzled in local honey and cinnamon which were just divine.
And, of course, there were the ruins, which were truly fascinating. I hadn’t expected to be so moved by them, but the Acropolis and the Temple of the Olympian Zeus in particular really struck a chord with me. It was amazing to see these structures that were built so long before modern technology, still standing strong in the middle of such a modern city. I’m not normally particularly interested in historical sites or buildings, so I hadn’t thought I’d want to spend long visiting the sites in Athens, but when I arrived at the Acropolis I was astonished. It’s just beautiful. From the top of the hill I had a 360 degree view of the city, glistening white under the sun, and the Parthenon itself is so impressive. I’d only intended to spend about half an hour or so looking around, but I wound up lingering for over two hours, just sitting in the sunshine and trying to take it all in.
Athens completely captured my heart. It’s so diverse, with four different cities overlapping one another. Ancient Greek and Roman ruins vie for space with the modern city, popping up in the middle of a metro station or high street shops, while the years of Ottoman occupation have left an equally vivid mark in the older districts. And then there’s the trendy, modern Athens on top of it all, blending with the ancient world or creating something totally new on top of it, with fascinating architecture like the converted gas drums which now house eco-friendly offices. There was so much to uncover in this beautiful, complicated Mediterranean city, and I left truly enraptured.
One of the absolute highlights of my trip was stumbling across an amazing brass band performing for tips on the pedestrian street leading up to the Acropolis. The sun had made a brilliant last appearance, low and golden in the chilly February sky, there was a festive Sunday afternoon atmosphere in the air, and that part of the city is truly beautiful as you wind up the hill with the stunning Acropolis towering above the grassy slopes. I was hurrying to a museum, very conscious of having just a couple of hours left before I had to head back to the airport and home, and just as I drew level with them the band started to play Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’. It seemed like perfect timing as a soundtrack to my last few hours!
I wound up lingering for over two hours, just sitting in the sunshine and trying to take it all in.
The Acropolis stands on top of a hill near the heart of the city. From up there, I felt I could see everything. Around me, Athens looked like an enormous white lake surrounded by green hills. The pale city of white buildings undulated softly over the uneven terrain in gentle waves, broken here and there by forested hills which looked like islands. Overhead, the sky was an intense shade of blue which I’ll forever associate with Greece from now on, with the lukewarm, wintery sun slinking low and bathing the creamy stone of the Parthenon in a pale golden light. Behind me was the sea, shimmering silver in the intensity of the slowly setting sun, so bright I could barely look at it. Ahead of me, the rolling white of the city, enormous and so beautiful. And to my right, the slopes of the hill fell away steeply, leading to the tiered round pits of the theatres of Dionysus and Herodes Atticus, striking against the grassy slopes and rich pine trees. It was so beautifully peaceful; I wanted to sit up there in the sunshine endlessly, just gazing around me at those incredible sights.
I love Moussaka, so it was amazing to try that traditional dish actually in Greece – much better than any versions I’ve tried in the UK before. But the most amazing meal I had was at Melilotos. It’s a really trendy restaurant just off the main high street in the city, with a great atmosphere, and the food was incredible. I had a chicken burger, which might not sound like the most Greek thing I could have eaten, but it was made with some amazing local ingredients. Peppers from Florina, pastrami from Drama and Gruyere from Crete; it was a brilliant symphony of Greek flavours and completely delicious.
There were natural sponges for sale in every souvenir shop, and I couldn’t resist picking one of those up. In fact, it makes a brilliant souvenir, as references in the writings of Aristotle, Plato and Homer prove that these natural sponges were used by the ancient Greeks for body and skin care.
Someone I met on my trip told me that the mountains outside of Athens are great for hiking and snowboarding, something I’d never heard before or even imagined! I would love to head up to the hills and explore a completely different side of Greece; one which most people outside of the country don’t even know exists.
Equally, though, I’d also really like to explore the islands and beaches that Greece is famous for. I didn’t have time to get to the seaside or Athens’ port on my trip, and I would have loved to. Next time I will make sure to see the sea!
Emily Luxton is back to Greece to participate in Blogtrotters 2015 in Thessaloniki.
Visit http://www.discovergreece.com/blogtrottersgr to learn all about this amazing annual travel event!