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!
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.
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:
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!!
You can tell we’re not in Israel anymore*….
*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:
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:
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.
Caffeinated and refreshed, we went to check out the Agora.
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.
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:
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.
We shared a salad with hard cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, grilled halloumi cheese, and a zuchinni souffle.
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:
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.
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…
…and then walked back to the hotel for a little down time before dinner.
Side note: graffiti is literally everywhere in Athens.
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.
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.
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.
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!