Brushing up on my Greek Mythology…

As I sit here next to Kylie on my 4 hour flight back to Dublin, eating the baklava we purchased just before leaving Athens, I figured it would be an opportune time to jot down everything that has happened the past couple days.. in Greece! Originally, Kylie and I had planned to do a 4 day trip to Athens and Crete – 2 days in Athens, 2 days in Crete. But our class has a field trip tomorrow on Saturday April 1st, so we had to cut Crete out of our itinerary and rebook a flight home earlier. We took a loss on the money we spent for that airfare to Crete, but when traveling around Europe is this cheap, I’m chalking it up to part of the traveller’s experience. Apparently not everything goes smoothly all the time. Who knew?

A highlight of the trip was that I had a lovely surprise in Athens because I found out that some of my family friends were currently in Athens too! That night I had the chance to meet up with them. Who would have thought that I would find more people I knew halfway across the world?!

After being in Ireland for awhile, we decided that we were in need of some Vitamin D. We also found super cheap flights (one-way flight from Athens to Dublin was €35 if that tells you anything). We honestly lucked out because we booked our flights for dates just right before tourist season kicks off and airfare prices skyrocket (the next couple weekends, flights to Greece are upwards of €200+).

Our flight left Dublin around 7 am on Wednesday, so just like any other early flight, our routine is to get up around 4:30, get ready, catch the Aircoach shuttle for 45 minute trip from UCD to the Dublin airport, breeze through airport security in 15 minutes or less, wait for Ryanair to tell us which gate we are boarding at (because they are always late to announce it), get an airport coffee, and relax at the gate until we board the plane from a set of stairs outside.

I also lucked out on this trip and got randomly assigned to a window seat, so I could see all of the countries that we were flying over. My favorite part was flying over the Austrian Alps and seeing them from the air, especially after having skied the Alps, I had a brand new appreciation for it’s God-given beauty.

4 hours after taking off from Dublin, we finally flew over some Greek islands, a beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea, the Greek countryside dotted with (maybe they were Olive) trees, and landed in Athens where the sun was shining out of a clear blue sky and it was 65 degrees. Gorgeous.

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After Kylie and I got a brand new stamp in our passport, we took the metro to the Syntagma Square, walked 15 minutes to check into the hotel, and then were off to explore. As a side-note, for anyone who is traveling, I really suggest you download the app called Visit A City. The app lets you download almost any city and it’s suggested travel itineraries are based on what you want to see and where you want to go. It also gives other tips, suggestions on tours and lists other useful information about what is going on in that area and the surrounding areas. It has been super useful in all of my travels and is like a guidebook you can fit in your pocket (without looking so much like a tourist).

Before we did any sight seeing, we stumbled across a cafe/bakery and went back to this place 3 times throughout our stay because the food was THAT good. But the best part – I paid €2.80 for the whole meal. And I got a donut for free. The waiter apparently knew the way to my heart (free delicious food, in case you were wondering), and I was immediately in love with the country.

After our first heavenly food experience, it was about 5:00 pm when we started roaming around the city to see what we could find. We came across the Roman Agora and several other places that we decided to save for the next day since they were already starting the close for the night. Kylie is really into Greek history and ruins (she was much more knowledgeable than I was), and so she was extremely excited to hike up the hill to see the Parthenon in particular.

On our hike up the very steep hill, we came across Areopagus Hill and took a detour. It proved to be a very slippery, difficult climb to the top of an uneven marble rocky outcrop that has been worn down for thousands of years and millions of people climbing on it. However, the view was worth it. Areopagus Hill is situated between the Acropolis and two other hills and is 115 meters high above the city. In the past, it served as a place of worship and also a place where the Areopagus council met for judicial trials and other important matters. Back in 1600 BC, the northern slope of the hill served as a cemetery until about the 6th century BC and onwards when it became used as a residential quarter.

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After taking in the view of the city and the Acropolis on the neighboring hill, we adventured onward up the hill and literally stumbled upon the Prison of Socrates. It was amazing that people who lived thousands of centuries ago were able to literally cut groundwork and whole rooms out of bedrock. They were incredibly advanced for their time and I never fully understood the scope of that until I saw it with my own eyes. The Prison of Socrates was a structure cut into the slopes of the Hill of Muses and was likely a 2 or 3-story dwelling.

The rest of the day was spent exploring around the Roman Agora and the side streets of Athens, while we dodged the hundred stray cats and dogs roaming the streets.

Day two was filled to the brim with so many awesome things. My personal favorite? The Panathenaic Stadium! In short, this is what we were up to that day.

  1. Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon – built in 447 B.C. and was a temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos. Damaged throughout the years by various sieges, many of the sculptures were removed or stolen. Today, a lot of these pieces from the Parthenon are on display in the British Museum of London (because the Earl of Elgin took them to England in the 1800’s. It is under a lot of construction today as they restore it.

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2. The Erechtheion – This building has a strange design because it was built to house an ancient sacred spot, the salt spring. The legend has it that the salt spring appeared when Poseidon struct the rock with his trident while competing with Athena.

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The contest continued with Athena striking the rock with her spear, and an olive tree sprung up, thus giving her victory. You can see the olive tree in the picture below!

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3. Theater of Dionysos – birthplace of European theater. At one time, this theater could seat up to 17,000 spectators! Today, only 20 rows of seats have survived.

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4. The Odeon of Hedodes Atticus – another ancient performance venue right next to the Theater of Dionysos. The whole structure used to be covered in marble.

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5. Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus – Both are right next to each other. The arch is in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

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The Temple of Zeus was one of my favorite places in Athens but I am not entirely sure why. It is simply an impressive structure. It was the largest temple in ancient Greece, and was actually even larger than the Parthenon. Only 15 of the original 104 columns are still standing today! One last column also is still lying on the ground.

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Some of the ancient Roman baths surrounding the Temple of Zeus that have been excavated.

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6. The Panathenaic Stadium – home of the 1st modern Olympic games!! I was definitely geeking out at this stop because I love the Olympics. It is the only stadium in the world completely built with marble. This stadium was first built in 300s B.C. to host the Panathenaic Games, but fell into disrepair until it was restored in the 19th century for the fist modern Olympics in 1896.

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Me as I finished running my lap around the track and feeling very accomplished!

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7. Temple of Hephaestus within the Ancient Agora – constructed 2 years before the Parthenon and was the first Athenian temple made of marble, and they still are unsure of which god was worshipped here because there were many cult statues found in the temple.

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8. More of the Ancient Agora – the agora was the heart of ancient Athens and people would come here form all around for business, shopping, socializing, school, and political events. It holds the Stoa of Attalos among other ancient ruins. One of the cool things I found was the Odeon of Agrippa and the Gymnasium.

The Gymnasium was also called the “Palace of Giants” and had an area for bathing, two courtyards, a garden, and other rooms.

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And just like that, it was time for us to head back to Dublin in order for us to make it to our field trip the next day. As for Greece, I would love to come back some day. Until next time!

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