After nearly a full day of traveling both by train and by bus, I arrived in Athens. While it took a while to get there, I recommend the sleeper train if you are traveling from Istanbul to Greece and want to save a bit of money. The compartments were immaculate and the pull-down beds were surprisingly comfortable.
The hostel I chose was in the heart of Plaka, the more touristy area that is close to all the major sites. This area allows only pedestrian traffic, so tourists and Greeks alike walk to their destinations. The hostel couldn’t have been more conveniently located.
The Acropolis was just steps away, which I was incredibly pleased about as I was dying to see the Parthenon. Since it was Spring Break for many other students, the Acropolis – and all tourist attractions, for that matter – were packed.
Walking up to the Parthenon, all I saw was a wall like that of a fortress. I couldn’t even really see what I was approaching, which added to the excitement. From the higher elevation I could see just how beautiful Athens is, complete with green grassy areas, houses lining the hillsides and the wide expanse of clear sky surrounding me.
At first, the clearing in front of the Parthenon was sparse with people, as if they were afraid to get too close to this colossal structure. Even though they are in the process of stabilizing it and parts are covered in metal scaffolding, it stands just how it has and will stand for thousands of years.
I loved just wandering around this amazing area. I would have stayed longer, but it started to rain, so I had to leave. The rain surprised me. I have been living in one of the most arid places for the past three months and haven’t experienced much rain recently.
I saw just about everything there is to see in Athens. I saw Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Zeus, the Agora, Kermakios (the first cemetery), the National Archeological Museum and so much more.
The Agora was fascinating to just wander through and imagine how it must have looked in ancient times. They have a reconstruction of the covered market place where stalls would have been set up with vendors hawking their wares. This was especially fascinating as I have always imagined how they would look.
The Archeological Museum was stunning. I could get lost in there! The guide books said this was one of the world’s greatest museums, and they didn’t lie! Being a lover of museums, I was incredibly pleased.
Henry Schliemann, the archeologist who discovered Troy, also discovered Mycenae. This was a beautiful location with just a gorgeous environment and atmosphere. If I thought the area surrounding the Parthenon was beautiful, I couldn’t have even imagined seeing something this stunning! I can see why the Mycenaeans built their civilization here. I got to see the famous lion gates that are featured in all college art history books, too!
Epidaurus had an enormous theatre and is considered the best preserved. My tour guide demonstrated the acoustics of the theatre, and I was impressed at how well the theatre was constructed to be able to project the speaker’s voice to the audience.
I also got to go to the tomb of Agamemnon, which was perhaps my favorite part of this day trip. The inside of it was completely circular, with a domed roof. The outside had a massive stone entrance, obviously marking the tomb of an important king. This tomb helps explain why Agamemnon’s body was not among the graves Schliemann discovered at Mycenae. I never thought I’d see this.
My final day tour was to Delphi to visit the ancient oracle of Delphi. The oracle isn’t actually there anymore, unfortunately, but I did get to see the temple where the prophesies once took place! Delphi again was simply a gorgeous site. It’s up high on the cliff at an elevation of 700 meters above sea level. All alone on the top of this mountain, it’s easy to see how this could be such a religious site for the ancient people. It was so amazing to see this sight I’d always heard about, but never expected to be able to see.
Sad to leave, as I am with all my travels thus far, I packed up my bags and headed back to Cairo to finish up my last five weeks in Egypt. It’s hard to believe Spring Break has already passed! I feel as if I just woke up in my bed in Cairo – and Istanbul and Athens were but a dream.