For the second half of our Greek Adventure (first half found here) we were able to spend a couple days in Athens and tour 2 Greek islands (Santorini and Naxos). We split our time in Athens in half, with a visit to the islands to ensure that we had enough time in Athens before our flight to Asia!
The Rundown (Athens)
While Athens is not the cleanest city and the neighborhoods surrounding the city center do not invite you in, the main sites and museums more than make up for the city itself. Since the city has continuously grown on-top of its self through the centuries, ruins can be found on street corners, hill tops, or even underground when waiting for the metro. It was really fun to walk through the city not knowing what you would find next.
- The Athens Acropolis – The Parthenon was truly impressive! We could hardly believe we were standing in front of one of the most iconic sites in the Western world. Similar to Delphi, some of the building’s columns have been rebuilt, but nonetheless, it is hard not to marvel at the fact that a civilization from over 2,000 years ago could construct such mammoth structures. Since the Acropolis looks over the rest of the city, the views are also pretty incredible. The ruins within the acropolis include the Parthenon, built for the Goddess Athena, and the Erechtheum (also a temple for Athena as well as Poseidon). After several hours and probably 1,000 photos we still did not want to leave, but alas, there was so much more to see. We visited 7 archaeological sites in about 9 hours!
- Other Archaeological Sites – Our ticket for the Acropolis came bundled with 6 other major archaeological sites, and we were determined not to miss a single one! Without going into any lengthy details, we also visited the ruins of: The Ancient Agora (marketplace), Karameikos (an old town and cemetery), Olympieion (a temple to Zeus), Hadrian’s Library, and Lyceum (an old gym and philosophy school founded by Aristotle). Each site had such impressive ruins, and we were surprised at the lack of people at these sites when compared to the sheer amount of tourists at the Acropolis. We had a LONG day, but we managed to hit all seven sites. We did pay a price, however, as Andy got a blistering second degree burn on his calves from the scorching Greek sun (travel pro-tip, reapply sunscreen every few hours!)
- Acropolis Museum – The Acropolis Museum houses many of the statues, friezes, and countless Greek artifacts from the acropolis and surrounding areas. The most impressive artifacts include the female shaped columns from the Erechtheum, and the various Greek depictions chiseled in marble that used to line the Pantheon’s roof. It was pretty neat to see these pieces of the building up close.
- National Archaeological Museum – This museum houses some of the most impressive pieces of Greek art throughout history. We spent almost a full day here, and while the museum looks small compared to others (like the Louvre or Met) don’t let it fool you, there is tons to see!
- Areopagus – This is a HUGE rock near the Acropolis which gives you a great view of the surrounding city and the Acropolis itself. As far back as the 5th century BC it is said to have paid a role as a court, a place for the senate to meet, and even where the Apostle Paul is said to have given a famous speech.
- Other Odds and Ends – When it comes down to it, there is just so much to see in Athens. We also went by the presidents house and Legislature to see the guards dressed up in Hellenic Garb (with fluffy shoes!), and other archaeological sites such as the Panathenaic Stadium which was first created in 330 BC, and hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896.
The Rundown (Santorini)
The island of Santorini is an enormous volcanic caldera and comes complete with an extinct civilization’s ruins, Byzantine castle ruins, and white washed towns that cling cliff tops. For many that vacation here, they lay by their infinity pools and watch the sun set over the horizon each evening. While Santorini is an amazing place to visit, we were a bit surprised at the lack of plant life (parts of the island were a bit desolate) and available beaches. However, what it lacked in some areas it more than made up in others; just checkout these views!
- Hike from Fira to Oia – We set out one afternoon to hike a popular route of about 12 km from the town of Fira to Oia along the top of the volcano caldera. The views along the trail and within the towns we passed through were amazing, and something cannot be seen from the road. We ended the day watching the sun set over the caldera in Byzantine castle in Oia with a few thousand of our closest friends.
- Akrotiri Archaeological Site – The island also hosts a Bronze age archaeological site which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1627 BC. The site is often compared to Pompeii, but unlike Pompeii, the townsmen knew the eruption was about to happened and escaped, leaving the ruins of the city behind. The site was especially interesting because everyday articles including pottery and frescoes have been found amongst the ash. Walking through this city felt extremely special.
The Rundown (Naxos)
While we only stayed in Naxos for 2 days, and explored such a small piece of the island we did eat some amazing Greek food, relax on the beach, and visit the remains of the Temple of Apollo that is near the port.