After a quick layover in Amsterdam, this was the beginning of our real adventure. We met our Contiki group at the Poseidon Hotel, around 45 minutes outside of the city of Athens and facing the beach. Our hotel had gorgeous sea views, but it was on our second day in the city that we really got down to exploring. Rather than joining our Contiki group on the first day, we decided to take things at our own pace and explore the city from the city bus tour.
Our first stop was the Acropolis Museum, which is much more Erin’s style than mine. Personally, I love to see the sights in their own environment, but find museums all a bit tedious, but I joined her in the spirit of seeing everything that Athens had to offer and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought. With tons of ruins and statues taken from the site of the Acropolis, it’s an incredible museum with a beautiful layout, perfect for history enthusiasts. It also gave you a chance to see some of the ruins close up, when ordinarily they would be much too high to study in detail.
Parthenon & Acropolis
Next up was the Acropolis and the Parthenon itself. The Acropolis is the remains of an ancient Greek city, with the ruins of a temple known as the Parthenon at its centre. It was incredible to see the level of detail in the ruins, and walk in the midst of an area that was so important to Ancient Greece. Athens is one of those cities where the new, industrial developments have met ancient history; but at the top of the hill where the Acropolis lies, you truly feel like you have taken a step back in time.
Temple of Zeus
The Temple of Zeus is another one of those places where the old meets the new. Right in the midst of new Athens, and within walking distance of Syntagma Square lies the Temple of Zeus, dedicated to the King of the twelve Olympian Gods. It dates back to the 6th century BC, and is situated in the midst of a gorgeous grassy park-like enclosure, providing a tranquil getaway from the bustle of Athens as you settle back into ancient history once again. Once again, the architecture is absolutely stunning, making photography an utter dream.
We only spotted this one from the bus, but before I came to Athens, my mum’s boss told me the tale of how the Olympic Marathon got its name, which seems pretty appropriate at this point. It turns out that a Greek Messenger in 490BC ran from the city of Marathon all of the way to Athens to deliver the message that the Greeks had won the Battle of Marathon, and died as soon as he got there. This was then declared the distance and name of what we know today as the marathon. Pretty cool, eh?
Changing of the Guards
Our Contiki Trip Manager, Nicole told us all that the Changing of the Guards in Athens is a must-see, and one for the bucket list, so we felt particularly privileged to see it twice! We saw it once whilst stuck in traffic on the tour bus, and later again when we joined our Contiki group for a traditional Greek meal that evening. In Syntagma Square, trained soldiers stand guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, changing every hour with a flamboyant and ceremonial march. It is a great honour to be chosen as one of these guards, and they can only be chosen if they have dark skin and dark features.
Our final stop before leaving Athens was a traditional Greek meal in the heart of Athens. Here, I tasted my first sample of tzatziki, some pork souvlaki, and a variety of traditional Greek starters which were absolutely delicious. It was also here that I drank my very first glass of wine (yes, really!!) before sitting back to enjoy the traditional Greek dancing that entertained us as we ate. This was a really relaxed and enjoyable night, and our whole Contiki group even got up to try our hand at our own bit of Greek dancing, complete with customary chants of “OPAAA” that echoed through the restaurant.