Greece Part 1 – Athens

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View from the Rooftop of our hotel in Athens

We started our trip  with a hired driver to take us from Maastricht to Brussels airport. While the train can take us there, when you are a family of 4, the price isn’t too different and trying to go on a train with enough luggage for 10 days is tough. The Brussels airport is huge. We’ve flown through here a few times, but I’m always a little overwhelmed by it. It is easy to navigate though, and I think we are outside of peak travel time (plus fewer travelers due to Covid) so perhaps even easier than usual to get through. 

I should put out there that we planned this trip with Ciao Bambino, a travel planning service we have used before for previous big family trips. Greece is such a bucket list trip that we wanted professional help in picking where to go/what to do. Barbara has been our planner for years, so we relied on her expertise to help us out.

Getting to Athens from Brussels, we had some of the easiest/breeziest airport navigation. All lines went quickly, nothing was super crowded, and we had a driver, Hector, waiting for us at the Athens airport to whisk us away to our hotel in Athens.

First impressions – it is WARM. We left chilly, grey Dutch weather and the sun is bright here! Hector pointed out a lot of cool things on the way to our hotel and when we asked about the recent fires he said that is was very devastating when they happened, but they were all gone now. We found out later that a third of the second largest island burned (it is one close to Athens). He also said we were the first to ask him about these fires. I guess they didn’t really make the headlines around the world? Or maybe so much of the world is literally and figuratively on fire it is hard to distinguish?

It’s very BUSY in Athens, a lot of people, a LOT of  traffic. Somewhere between 5-6 million people. 

Josh is like a little kid in Disney world. He’s SO excited. We were all a little tired from a long day of travel so we kept things pretty chill our first night and just enjoyed an early dinner at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant before calling it a night.

The next morning, our first full day, we took a tour to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, Erechtheion, temple of Athena Nike, temple of Hephaestus, and walked past two ancient agora (market), one Greek and one Roman. 

Our tour guide was excellent and the tour was focused on Greek mythology and very kid friendly. Our boys were happy to spout their knowledge of Greek mythology from all their reading of Rick Riordan books. 

We learned (well mostly I learned, I’m sure Josh already remembered from HS/college) over our days in Athens that many of the original Greek temples were destroyed by the Persians and when the Greeks returned from the war and found it all destroyed, they buried the remnants in pits which then became the foundations for new temples (and what ultimately helped lead to the preservation of some of those original pieces). Also over the years some of the temples were used by Romans, by Christians, and by Muslims. When Christians found them, they found the statues to be like idols so they would destroy them. Others (not just Christians) also melted them down for their bronze or gold. The ones that survived were often ones salvaged from shipwrecks. 

Our last stop was the Temple of Hephaestus, which has been one of the better preserved temples over time. We didn’t go inside but sat outside of it, reviewing the story of Hephaestus with the boys/the guide and then creating our own family “hero”, Leo, with all his strengths and faults. I’d like to point out that I did try to make ours a heroine…but no one listened to Mom. The only characteristic I “won” was that Dionysus was Leo’s “helper god”. 

Leo

We grabbed lunch nearby our hotel at Ergon House (also a boutique grocery/butcher shop) then rested a bit at the hotel. 

Crazily enough we were able to see some great friends from Charleston who are here for a sailing cruise with their friends! Our friends, Steve and Emily Swanson, arrived Thursday morning and were leaving Friday evening (I think) for their cruise pending a negative covid test.  Steve was Josh’s boss many years ago at ATD, where Josh first got started in automated trading and we’ve been lucky to build a friendship over time. We tried to convince them to take us with them and I’m definitely adding this chartered sailing cruise with friends around the Greek islands to my bucket list! Emily and Steve met us at our hotel rooftop for a pre-dinner drink (while our kids watched a movie in their room). It was great to see them, especially considering the new covid restrictions now keeping Americans from coming to certain countries (or forcing quarantine upon arrival even if vaccinated).

Quick catch up with the Swansons from Charleston!

Dinner was nearby at Feedέλ. A little more difficult for the kids who are still picky, but delicious for me/Josh. 

Full bellies!

The next day, our tour (with Eclectic Greece) started with a drive to the coast as we headed to see the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. The drive took about 80 minutes (have I mentioned the traffic in Athens?) but once we got outside the busier area, the road opened up and the views were all coastline, blue water, beaches, sailboats, and water sports. It was gorgeous and kinda hard to believe how close it is to Athens.

View from the car as we found the coast line and were leaving the city center of Athens.

Back in the day, the Cape and this point where the temple to Poseidon was constructed, were super important because you could see friends and foes coming via ship very easily. The Greeks fortified the area to make it as secure as possible and remnants of the wall as well as arrows and stones from catapults are all found there. The foundations of the village housing the priests and soldiers are visible as well. It is also interesting that the ground is covered in a blend of rocks, dirt, and broken ancient pottery. So looking down you can see and pick up these old pieces of pottery that were used who knows how long ago. How crazy is that?

People have been coming to visit the temple for thousands of years. Some have left their mark by carving names and dates in the stone. Luckily it is now better protected, but one name, Lord Byron, aka famous poet, can be seen on the rectangular column at the temple entrance.

Temple of Poseidon

This is still a tourist spot but is not super crowded. The views are stunning and the Cape is full of sailboats. I wondered if our friends Steve and Emily would end up in that cove during their trip.

part of the Cape
Gorgeous views of sailboats in the Cape.

We spent more time on the drive to and from this destination than at the temple but I’m glad we went. 

On the way back we stopped by a cool spot called Lake Vouliagmeni where a long time ago, a part of a cave collapsed and formed a lake that is replenished by natural springs as well as the sea so the water is a mix of fresh and salty, making it brackish.  Several people were swimming and there’s a cafe to hang out. I’d recommend it as a stop for others in the Athens area if you have time.

Arriving back at our hotel, we said goodbye to our great guide, and took off for lunch hoping to find some pizza for the boys. We found one place open with a very simple set up. It was not pizza to write home about but it got the job done.

This particular day we gave the boys their afternoon break and then we broke our “one big tour per day” rule. It was our last day in Athens and Auntie Brooke had asked to hear about the new Acropolis museum. We’d seen the museum from our Acropolis tour but not been inside it yet. I debated going on my own but Josh also wanted to see it so, we took a chance on meltdowns, and told the kids to come along. The walk to the museum was about 15 minutes and the closer we got to it, the more the cute quiet streets we’d seen on our morning tour the day before had come alive and they were packed with vendors, cafes, and people.

I’m not going to do the museum justice in my descriptions. Especially for any art historians who may be reading this. We also had about 35 minutes we could spend in it before we had to leave for our dinner reservations, so it was a speed tour to say the least. BUT, I can say it is WELL worth visiting and I’m NOT a museum person, as many of you know. When new things are built in Athens (and maybe in all of Greece, I don’t know), architects and historians have to help determine if there are artifacts that need to be preserved. This museum’s foundation is built in a way that shows what existed there many many years ago. It is raised over the remnants of ancient foundations and you can even seen partial mosaic flooring and ancient plumbing in these structures. It is mind blowing. The museum has 4 floors and then a lower level where you can see more of what was found/preserved. The 3rd floor is a cafe and has a terrace that looks out towards the Acropolis. All of the floors have clear portions that look all the way down to the lowest underground level, which is super cool and dizzying. 

*Some of the statues and relief sculptures from the buildings on the Acropolis are in the museum now to preserve them and replicas are in their place on the actual buildings. The museum has done an incredible job of showing these pieces, showing what we think they would have looked like in real life, and making it interesting for a non museum gal. 5 stars. I’d love to go back. Highly recommend. 

We had to rush from the museum to dinner which was near the Temple of Hephaestus and a 20 minutes walk. Being our final night we had a bit of excitement about our travels to another part of Greece the next day. We walked through another lively area we’d not yet been through in Athens. There was a large park and large pedestrian only walkways that were such a contrast to the area closest to our hotel.  We found our place in the middle of a lively and cute restaurant area and took our table on the rooftop. Once again I was reminded of how much I loved the fact we generally eat early so we usually arrive as the restaurant is opening and have the place to ourselves. 

The views from this place, Kuzina, were stunning. You could see the Temple of Hephaestus super close by and then off to the left the Acropolis and “Judicial Rock,” Areogpagus. You just feel so small in the city of Athens with all of these towering temples. I guess that’s the point.

The next morning we ate a super fast breakfast, said our goodbyes to Athens, and headed to the airport for Naxos!

Goodbye Athens!

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