Monday, September 21, 2009

Travels: Greece (Day 1-Athens)

We arrived in Athens at about 2pm. We checked in at the hotel and decided to start adventuring around the city. I was starving so decided to take my first crack at Greek food. We rode the Metro to the Akropoli stop. Right outside the Metro (on Makrigianni street), we found this small taverna called Vitro.
We started with the Aubergine (eggplant) Salad. It's grilled or smoked eggplant made into a think spread. It's fantastic with warm bread. Yum!
For lunch I tried the Lamb Soulvaki. It was served with rice, fried potatoes and warm sliced pita bread. The lamb here is delicious!
After refueling, we were off to see the Acropolis. The Acropolis is just up the road and around the corner from the Metro stop. We rode the Metro everywhere. It was very inexpensive and very convenient. After exiting the Metro, head North on Makrigianni St & take a left at Dionissiou Areopayitou (Grade Promenade). Admission to the Acropolis is 12 euro (combo ticket including admission to all the main sites & is good for 1 week).

We entered the Acropolis from the South slope entrance. We saw the Theater of Dionysos that was built in 4th c. BC. It originally seated 17,000 in 64 rows (20 rows exist today).

Hiking uphill, we got a great view into the Odeion of Herodes Atticus. This theater is still used today for performances (the only way to enter the theater). It was built in 2nd c. AD by Herodes Atticus.
Climbing up further, we reached the Temple of Athena Nike (Athena of Victory) and the Propylaia. The Temple of Athena Nike was built in 424 BC & heavily restored in the 1930's. It had been removed for more restoration when we visited. The Propylaia was the 5th century entrance to the Acropolis. The shear mass of marble columns supporting the building was impressive.
Passing through the Propylaia, we were treated to our first views of the massive Parthenon! It was really an awe inspiring experience to see it up close and personal. It was dedicated to Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin, patron goddess of Athens). The Parthenon at one time housed an enormous 36 ft statue of Athena designed by the great Phidias. Nothing remains of the statue today but a Roman copy can be seen at the National Archeological Museum. The Parthenon originally had sculptures on both pediments and a frieze running along the entire temple. Only a few fragments remain in place on the Parthenon.

The original frieze was made of alternating triglyphs & metopes. The East pediment showed scenes of the birth of Athena & the West showed Athena & Poseidon's contest for possession of Athens. A long frieze showed the battle of the Athenians against the Amazons, scenes from the Trojan War & the struggles of the Olympian Gods against the Giants & Centaurs. An interior frieze showed scenes from the Panathenaic Festival held each August.
This is the view of the city of Athens from the top of the Acropolis. Amazing!
Next was the Erechtheion (tomb of Erechtheus, King of Athens). You can see Mt. Lycabettus in the distance. The Caryatids (maidens) holding up the porch were amazing. These were casts, the originals are in the New Acropolis Museum and are splendid!
This building was also the site of Athena & Poseidon's contest for control of the city. In the North porch of the Erechtheion is a hold in the ceiling where Poseidon's trident struck to make a spring gush forth. Athena countered with an olive tree which won here control of the city and thus it is named Athens. Here's the hold in the ceiling and the olive tree planted next to the building.
We exited the Acropolis and followed the Grande Promenade down to the Ancient Agora. The Ancient Agora is located below the Acropolis (at the end of Monastiraki, entrance is on Adrianou, near Ayiou Philippou Sq.). This was the ancient Athen's commercial and civic center.

Some of the highlights at the Ancient Agora was the Church of the Holy Apostles. It is an adorable 11th c. Byzantine church that was restored by Americans. I loved the architecture!

Inside were beautiful frescos.

The Stoa of Attalos is also located here. It was built in 2nd c. BC by King Attalos of Pergamon & completely restored in the 1950's of American archaeologists. There is a museum here holding about 5,000 yrs of findings. We didn't go into the museum but wandered around the porch which featured beautiful statues.
We wandered up the hill in the agora towards the Temple of Hephaistos. Along the way, I spotted this guy wandering around. Cute eh?
The temple is dedicated to Hephaistos, patron of metal-working, and Athena Ergane, patroness of pottery & crafts. The temple dates from 5th century BC & is amazingly well-preserved. The sun was beginning to set and the marble changed from a nice white to a faint pink glow. Beautiful!
From the top of the hill, we got a great glimpse of the Acropolis rising above the agora.
We decided to squeeze in one more site since it was close by. We went to the Roman Agora next. The Roman Agora was the Roman's way of building their own forum as an extension of the Greeks. It was a mix of monuments from different eras. We entered at the west entrance and passed under the Gate of Athena Archegetis.

The most impressive monument is the Tower of the Winds. It was built in 1st c. BC by the astronomer Andronikos from Kyyhos in Macedonia. It was an octagonal tower made of Pentelic marble standing on a base with 3 steps. A bronze weather vane used to top the roof and indicated the direction of the winds. Personifications of each of the Gods of Wind are carved in relief at the top of each side of the tower. Rays of sun-dials are carved on each side and inside the building was a water clock.

After all that adventure, it was time to have dinner. There was a specific restaurant I had wanted to try. We walk around and around and couldn't find it. When we finally did, we were told they were booked for the evening. Crap! We made reservations for the following night and headed back to a place we had passed earlier.

Tou Psara was a cute restaurant located in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens since 1898. We dined outside under a beautiful mulberry tree.
Seafood was their specialty. Since we were going to have seafood, our waiter Kostos recommended a wonderful wine. It was a 2008 Domaine Gerovassilion Dry White Wine. It was made from the Asyrtiko & Malagouzia grapes and went perfectly with the fish (just like Kosto had said).
We shared a Greek Salad to start. It was delicious! The feta was amazing and tasted so much better than any I've had. The salad had tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, olives, capers, feta with herbs, a little vinegar and olive oil. Yummy!

I had decided on dinner for us. They had a nice grilled red snapper. As soon as we ordered, Kostos said "come with me". I made my friend go with him to pick the fish. It is priced per kilo and I never asked how much it was. Oopsies! When the fish arrived, it was huge! It could have fed 3-4 people. Seriously! I guess maybe I should have picked the fish? It was so delicious though! It was served with a Ladolemono sauce (lemon, olive oil & herbs).

Dinner at Tou Psara was fabulous! Not bad for not being at my first choice restaurant. You maybe wondering what the fish cost (cause I was certainly curious). My jaw dropped when our bill arrived. The fish (and only the fish) was 73 euro!! That's about $107. Dang! It was definitely good though!

We headed back to the hotel to sleep off the yummy dinner and all the walking we did today. Our hotel was convenienctly located near the Metro Metaxourgio stop (near Omonia Sq.).

Makrigianni St.
Athen, Greece

Tou Psara
16 Erethehos & Erotokritou St
105 56 Plaka, Athens
ph: +30210-3218733

Apollo Hotel
10 Achilleos St.
10436 Athens
ph: +30 210 5238303

Back from Greece!

I'm back! Had an amazing time in Greece! It was such a great trip. Lots of history, beautiful islands and lots of good food! I can't believe how every place we went was so unique and different. I met a lot of interesting and friendly people along the way. Bear with me as I took over 1000+ photos. I'm just getting started sorting through them so blogging will be in spurts. Glad to be home!

Disclaimer: Since I especially loved the history component and was in awe at how well preserved structures were, I'll probably tell you way too much about everything I saw. Don't mind me!