Monastiraki Square

Roaming the Neighbourhood of the Gods, Athens

We flew from Frankfurt, Germany to Athens in 2.5 hours. We took taxi to our hotel in the Plaka area. Almost as soon as we drove to the city, I could tell that we were in Greece. Everything was sooo… Greece-like! Lots of hills in the distance full of white-washed buildings. Our taxi driver proved to be important later on, as we would go with him again a couple more times in Athens. Interestingly he was raised for some years in Australia, and he holds both Australia and Greece passports! I lived for several years in Melbourne and there we have the biggest Greek community outside of Greece.

Since Athens is such an old city (that is almost 3500 years old), I kinda half expected it to have lots of old buildings. But in fact, it is SO old that most old buildings have been destroyed! Athens has not been peaceful in a lot of of phases in its life, buildings got destroyed by wars and historical remains pillaged by foreigners. So when we started entering the city of Athens, it kinda reminded me of Jakarta, because traffic was pretty bad and the weather was hot, the buildings looked new (several decades top) and ordinary.

So Athens is big, but the area that you’d be most interested in is the historical neighbourhood called Plaka – known as the “Neighbourhood of the Gods” due to its proximity to the Acropolis and many archeological sites. Most travelers would just roam around this area. There are lots of hostels, food places, shops, and all the historical stuff you want to see in Athens. You can walk everywhere around this area and don’t need to use public transports.

Once we arrived in our hotel, I was greeted by the Acropolis from my window:

the Acropolis

Hello Acropolis!

which is so very very cool. I think I jumped up and down a bit on the spot :D

But I kept Acropolis for the full day after. The first day we walked around the city. I used Rick Steves audio walking tour, which is really good and I can highly recommend it. It’s free and it comes with audio and a map. You can get it from either his phone app, or his podcast (look for Greece). I’m a fan of Rick Steves podcasts and his audio walking tours!

It was really nice just to walk around and saw Athens up close. Since it was in the middle of the summer, the heat was quite bad (around 33 degrees), but you can always find a shade to take a break for a bit.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Syntagma Square

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Syntagma Square – there’s change of guards every hour

Greek Orthodox church

a small Greek Orthodox church

Greece is majorly Christian of denomination Greek Orthodox and their religious leader or their equivalence of Pope resides in Turkey. Their churches look distinctly different. A lot of the buildings are square shape, instead of Roman Catholic’s cross shape. Greece and Turkey used to be one, but when they turned into two nations, there was a compulsory population exchange in 1923 in which all the Muslims had to move to Turkey and all the Christians had to move to Greece. Hence up to now Greece is majorly Christian and Turkey Muslim. Also explains why Greek Orthodox Pope is in Turkey – as they were once one people and one land. Very interesting story, no? Turkey is currently very high up on my to-go list!

the church window

the church window

Greek coconut snack

It was so hot that coconuts sprayed with water couldn’t look more appetizing!

Athens Cathedral (Mitropolis)

Athens Cathedral (Mitropolis)

Their Cathedral is currently going under renovation because of the earthquake. Greece and Turkey are often hit by earthquake. It is basically the worst spot earthquake-wise to build civilization on. In fact, the area is worse than Japan – which is also famous for being earthquake prone area.

Monastiraki Square

Monastiraki Square. Also notice the Acropolis in the background :). We can see the Acropolis from almost anywhere in the city.

The Souvlaki Row is just in one of the lanes from this square – where there are a few restaurants there famous for their souvlaki. We had dinner there twice (different restaurants), which was pretty good, but I think Greek food is just not my best kind of food somehow. It’s quite meaty and the food is usually dry. Even their salad – which what we usually call Greek salad outside of Greece – does not generally come with sauce (probably just a bit of vinegar).

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Temple of Olympian Zeus

During the Romans period, Temple of Olympian Zeus was the largest temple in Greece and it took more than 600 years to finish. Unfortunately it was reduced to ruins during barbarian invasions and was never repaired.

It’s quite amazing to have this kind of old ruins in the middle of the city. This area is literally just next to a busy motor vehicle road. I had to cross the big road from the Plaka area to take a snap of this spot.

busy Plaka at night

busy Plaka at night

So whether you’re a history buff (me) or shopping elves (the grandmothers), Athens has it for everyone! Historical sites around the corner and endless little shops along the way. We all loved it! :)

Next we would climb the Acropolis. I was going to put the 2 days in one post, but it would’ve been too long. What was I thinking?! See you in the next installment!