Athens: Agora and museums

Since the Athens segment of our trip consisted of only two half days and one full day, we woke up bright and early to take full advantage of our one complete day in the city. Breakfast at Economy Hotel was definitely a step down from breakfast at the Mistral Hotel, but it filled us up and had some thick and delicious greek yogurt!

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After breakfast, we headed right away to the National Archaeological Museum. My guidebook listed this museum as the top museum to visit and said that the museum boasted one of the most famous and influential collections in the world.

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The museum is fairly large, so we couldn’t look at everything in great detail, but we spent a bit of time looking at the Mycenaean Collection (from the 16-11th centuries BC, featuring lots of gold), the Egyptian collection, and lots of statues:

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After the Archaeological Museum, we stopped by the Central Market. The Central Market is somewhat similar to the shuk but with an emphasis on meat and fish. SO MUCH MEAT!!

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You can tell we’re not in Israel anymore*….

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*octopus is NOT kosher.

The Central Market also has some spice stands around the outskirts, so that might be a better place to walk around for the more squeamish:

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After the Central Market, we made our way to the Agora and stopped for a coffee. Greece had a few types of unique coffee drinks. Greek coffee is a very thick and grainy drink – somewhat similar to Turkish coffee in Israel. An espresso freddo is espresso over ice. The espresso, however, is frothed with cold water making a very foamy drink. A cappuccino freddo is the same thing except with additional frothed milk on top. Lastly, nescafe is frothed instant coffee, often served with milk and sugar (be careful – if you get with sugar they are extremely sweet!). This is an espresso freddo:

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While we finished our drinks we sat under the Stoa of Attalos which used to be a 2nd century BC shopping mall and now serves as home to the Agora Museum.

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Selfies. Obviously.

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Caffeinated and refreshed, we went to check out the Agora.

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The Agora was once Athen’s central market and the main area of the city for about 1,200 years. It was built in the 6th century BC and was the spot for political discourse and the birthplace of democracy. Today, not much remains in the area, but there are ruins indicating where great buildings once stood.

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Although most of the Agora is now in ruins, the Temple of Hephaestus still remains and is, in fact, the best preserved Classical temple in all of Greece:

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When in use, the temple was devoted to both Hephaestus and Athena. After walking through the Agora, we took a break for lunch at a nearby restaurant called To Kouti. We chose a table outside and shared some bread with a yogurt spread while waiting for our meal.

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We shared a salad with hard cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, grilled halloumi cheese, and a zuchinni souffle.

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I wasn’t wowed by the meal, but it did its job! Once refueled, we headed back to the Agora to go to the Agora Museum. The museum is fairly small but has a lot of really interesting artifacts that reflect both the styles of the time period and the developing democracy. My favorite artifact was the Athenian Law for Democracy inscribed on this tablet after the citizens of Athens voted for a new-fangled system giving every (male) citizen an equal vote:

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The Roman Forum is right next to the Agora and better preserved, so we swung by there for a quick walk-through on our way out of the area. The gate pictured below is called the Gate of Athena Archegetis and serves as the primary entrance to the forum, built in 11 BC by Julius Caesar and Augustus and dedicated – you guessed it! – to Athena.

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By this point, it was late afternoon and we were totally exhausted from walking around all day, so we relaxed at another cafe for a bit…

nescafe with milk and sugar on the left, tea on the right

nescafe with milk and sugar on the left, tea on the right

…and then walked back to the hotel for a little down time before dinner.

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Side note: graffiti is literally everywhere in Athens.

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After an hour or so at the hotel, we decided to go to a restaurant called Mani-Mani, recommended by both Trip Advisor and our guide book.

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The restaurant has a Greek and American inspired menu, and we ordered several dishes to share: a bean dip (sort of like hummus!), a salad with Greek cream cheese (which tasted a lot like creamy goat cheese to me) and figs, and a fish dish served with spinach and some sort of root vegetable puree.

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By the end of the meal, it was late so we headed straight back to the hotel to get some sleep. The next morning we slept in a little bit and met some friends to visit the Jewish Museum in Athens.

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The group we met up with are fellow Americans in Jerusalem for the year (including our good friend, Avi, from college!), and we were all on the same return flight to Tel Aviv.

The 4 nights in Greece flew by, but when I got back to Jerusalem it also felt as though I had been gone forever…funny how vacations work!

Other Greece posts

1. Getting There
2. Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel
3. Hydra: exploring
4. Hydra: food
5. Athens: arrival and Acropolis

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Athens: arrival and Acropolis

We left Hydra on Sunday at about noon and just over an hour later we were arriving to Piraeus Port…ready to start the Athens segment of the trip!

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We took the metro from the port to our hotel which was near the Omonia metro stop. This hotel was definitely a different flavor from Mistral Hotel on Hydra.

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The name says it all.

But, the rooms were clean, the lobby was nice, the receptionists were very friendly, and breakfast was included. So, nothing to complain about. 🙂

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After dropping our stuff off at the room, we headed out right away to start seeing the sights. Unlike the total sense of relaxation on Hydra, Athens came with a certain feeling of pressure to ‘get stuff done.’ With so many famous places and museums, we wanted to make the most of our two days. On the way to the Acropolis, we walked through Monastiraki Square – one of the main shopping and pedestrian areas in Athens.

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At the square, we grabbed sandwiches at Everest, a Greek sandwich chain.

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With restored energy from the food, we continued on our way towards the Acropolis:

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The Acropolis sits on a hill at the highest part of Athens. Due to its height, Acropolis Rock, sometimes called the “Sacred Rock,” was used for sacred purposes since neolithic times. The ancient Greeks built several temples on Acropolis Rock, most of them honoring the city’s namesake, the goddess Athena. The temples built here continue to appear incredible and majestic, and the architectural designs found at the Acropolis have played a big role on architecture within the Western world. To enter the Acropolis, we climbed the hill, snaked through a park, and finally approached the front entrance, called the Propylaia:

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Since the Acropolis sits on such a high point of the city, there are some pretty incredible views looking down…

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…including a neat view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus:

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We especially enjoyed spotting Lykavittos Hill which we planned to go up later that day:

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After entering the main area of the Acropolis, we headed straight to the Parthenon.

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The Parthenon served as a temple to the goddess Athena, and in ancient times a huge gold statue of Athena was housed inside. The sheer size of the temple and columns were really impressive to see. There’s currently a restoration project going on, hence some of the scaffolding you can see in the pictures.

After the Parthenon, we crossed the pathway to look at the Erechtheion. According to myth, Poseidon and Athena battled to rule the city that would become Athens. Athena was selected for the position because she produced the first olive tree to represent what she could offer the city (hinting to the later significance of olives in Greece). The Erechtheion is built on the spot where this battle was said to occur, and within the building are two separate temples: one to Athena and one to Poseidon. Caryatids (sculptures of women, acting as columns) support one side of the temple (the left side in the picture below). The caryatids on display at the Acropolis are actually copies of the originals. Of the six real ones, 5 are in the New Acropolis museum and 1 remains in the British Museum.

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After our fill of sightseeing, we made our way to the New Acropolis Museum.

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This museum opened in 2009 and has really interesting architecture. The floors are made of glass, and looking down you can see excavations of an old Christian village. The museum itself houses many of the original marbles from the Acropolis. While at the museum, we learned that Greece has reclaimed many of these marbles as the result of political pressure being placed on Britain to return the artifacts to their rightful owners.

After the museum it was already dark outside, so we decided to alter our original plan for the evening. We had been planning to hike up Lykavittos Hill and then enjoy dinner at the top. Since it was darker and later than ideal, we decided to take the funicular to the top instead of walking:

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Views from the top were amazing!

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We enjoyed a light dinner at a restaurant on top of the hill before walking back – exhausted! – to the hotel for bed.

 

Other Greece posts

1. Getting There
2. Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel
3. Hydra: exploring
4. Hydra: food

Getting there is half the fun

During Sukkot hol hamoed (the intermediate days of the holiday), Noah and I took a four-night, five-day vacation to Greece! Being in Israel, there are so many amazing countries only a short distance away – and getting there is a whole lot cheaper than it would be from the USA! I had a break from classes for the Sukkot holiday, so a couple months ago we started talking about planning a trip to take advantage of our geographical location. Greece became the destination because we hadn’t been there before (technically I went in junior high, but I didn’t really remember anything) and there were good options for both city exploration and island relaxation. We left last Friday bright and early. The sherut (shared taxi) picked us up for the airport at 3:40am! Of course…we ended up not packing until the night before.

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Okapi-i got some sleep even when we couldn’t:

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When we made it through security (always an ordeal at the Tel Aviv airport), there was some time to walk around and explore before our flight.

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There’s something so lovely about kosher burger joints and an Aroma over the standard airport food!

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We had a layover in the Istanbul airport for about 4 hours. As soon as we got off the plane in Istanbul, we saw that we were in an ENORMOUS internationals terminal.

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There were American-brand stores everywhere:

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And massive duty free shops selling everything in supersize:

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Noah and I had a lot of fun looking at all the goofy stuff at duty free, such as this Angry Birds perfume pack…

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…and the sample shots of whiskey (at 10am??):

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After sufficient exploration, we settled comfortably down with Starbucks and looked at our Athens guidebook until it was time for the flight:

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When we arrived in Athens after another quick 90 minute flight, we immediately were on our way to Piraeus Port to catch a ferry to the small island, Hydra. While in Greece, Noah and I wanted to spend a couple days in Athens seeing the big sites and a couple days on an island chillaxingAt first, we were looking at some of the larger and more iconic islands – like Santorini – but quickly decided that it would be better to go somewhere nearer to Athens to reduce the amount of time we needed to spend on a ferry. Plus, there are no shortage of amazing islands in Greece, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out at all! We settled on Hydra because it was supposed to be beautiful and we were attracted to the fact that it is a no-car island.

It took about an hour by public bus to get from the Athens airport to Piraeus (we passed an Ikea!):

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After getting to the port, there was some extra time to walk around and check out all of the super-sized boats:

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We were also lucky to be there just as the sun was setting:

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Our boat was a high-speed hydrofoil ferry that was a lot smaller than some of the monsters around the dock but still seated around 100 people.

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Noah and I were seated in the very front of the ferry and it sure was bumpy! Our seats seemed to be right over the foil lifts, and it led to an extremely crazy ride. I felt a little nauseous at the beginning, but luckily the feeling lessened slightly as we got further into the ride (the transport time was about 2 hours). About halfway through journey, we had some terror excitement. Out of nowhere, we heard an explosion and smoke started to fill the boat! Some of the Greek men sitting near us jumped up and were congregating in the center area of the ferry. Needless to say, Noah and I were totally freaked out and readying ourselves to make a quick escape from the boat and swim to shore. As we were frantically looking around, we saw what appeared to be a fireball outside the window next to the ferry. AHH! Eventually our panic started to subside a bit when we noticed no one else was jumping out of the boat or making tearful last phone calls to friends and family, but we still had no idea what was going on. 

Eventually, some of the people near us returned to their seats, and they must have noticed we looked totally freaked out because they explained that a flare had fallen off the wall and gone off inside the ferry which caused the explosion sound and smoke. The flare had then been held outside to prevent more smoke from getting into the ferry (this was the fireball). Luckily, we were able to see the humor in the situation at this point…

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but it was seriously freaky when we thought we were going to have to jump out of the boat and swim to safety!!