Sunday, September 29, 2013

Timeless Athens - The Balkans (D17 -20 End)

Nice to be in sunny Athens for a change after days of relentless rain in Albania - so I thought. This was my second visit and unlike the first when I started off from here, it was the end point this time. Given the generally poor value of the hotels in Athens, I booked an apartment stay two blocks from Syntagma Square (convenient location for a short visit but not when there's a commotion). I also planned for more time here as felt that I somewhat hurried through a couple of years ago not doing justice to this timeless city. After a lunch of my favorite Greek fare (moussaka, grilled sardines and boiled octopus washed down with local beer), I started my afternoon walk at the Zappeio Palace where the 18th World Olympics Collections fair was ongoing. It then dawned on me that the city where it all began was playing its role in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics. Continuing to the Panathenaic Stadium - an athletic stadium that hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and is one of the oldest in the world. Moving on, I came to a familiar surroundings of the ornate gateway of Hadrian's Arch and the striking Temple of Zeus. Entering Plaka from there and then came my favorite part of the walk - the Anafiotika quarter. A peaceful and picturesque maze little whitewashed houses brimming with flowers bedecking the walls. Emerging from Anafiotika, I found another familiar site of the Roman Agora (marketplace). Its standout structure is the Tower of the Winds - a twelve meter octagonal tower. My walking tour ended at the Hadrian's Library next to Monastiraki metro station. Not a bad workout especially when considering I had just arrived that morning.

anafiotika quarter and acropolis
I spent the next morning window shopping around Ermou Street and downed a souvlaki before setting off to the Acropolis. Taking a different route from two years ago, I approached the Acropolis main entrance via the south slope. At the right place at the right time, I fortuitously caught the Olympic Torch Relay Exchange at the Parthenon but at the same time, the weather began to change for the worse. It started to rain suddenly and my trusty 400 lekë umbrella bought in Tirana was rendered useless under the gutsy winds. It was extremely disappointing but I had no choice but to leave especially when I only entered the complex a while ago. After my visit to the Acropolis got rained out, I slowly made my way by foot back to the apartment. It continued to rain mostly for the rest of the afternoon and early evening so I called it a day for sightseeing. On my third and final full day here, I braved the sporadic rain and visited the Stoa of Attalos, its museum and the Roman Agora. Athens would be a perfect base for travel to the neighboring Balkan states if not for the occasional unrest caused by its economic woes and reforms. Wandering along the streets, stumbling upon an ancient church or archaeological site at a turn in the middle of the city and seeing the glorious Acropolis perched high or illuminated after dark from many different parts of the city, Athens is a gem. And those Greek fare, ouzo and wine.... I cannot wait to go back. Watch this space.

boiled octopus
grilled sardines
18th olympics collection fair in zappeio palace
panathenaic stadium

anafiotika and acropolis

tower of the winds
hadrian's library
monastiraki metro station

ermou st
souvlaki stand around monastiraki
theater of dionysus
odeon of herodes atticus

olympics torch relay at the parthenon

parliament house
syntagma metro station
museum of the stoa of attalos
stoa of attalos
temple of hephaistos
temple of hephaistos
train passing with stoa of attalos & acropolis as backdrop
octopus salad
(salmon) soup of the day
chicken with tomato & cumin salsa served with basmati rice
eggplant with cheese and fresh tomato salsa
fabulous restaurant with a view to match

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