Our ship docked in Piraeus, a city of three harbors that merges seamlessly into Athens. It was a twenty minute drive to Athens proper, where the ancient is sprinkled among modern. Our first site required a steady uphill trek, as the sun also climbed the sky. The stones underfoot were slippery in the path of millions of footfalls.
It’s hard to imagine a more majestic setting than the Acropolis, where temple ruins rise high on the hill. From here the entire city stretches out below, wave after wave of mostly modern, lightly colored buildings. Picturesque seashore and harbors extend along a broad expanse in one direction, and in the other are distinct peaks. It was easy to pick out remains of the temple of Zeus, a long open space where a few of the many original columns still stand tall. Nearby is the Platka, ancient market streets turned tourist mecca, and our ending destination. But first, the Acropolis!
The Parthenon is particularly impressive in size and structure, although the effect is somewhat inhibited by the cranes and scaffolding of ongoing reconstruction. The results will shore up the building for at least another twenty-five hundred years assured Alika, our guide. She spent most of our time together talking about ancient mythology; personally, it is a subject of little interest. I tuned her out, preferring to focus in on the present.
I found my sister, my daughter, my nephew in the crowd, in the shade of the ruins. I know we were all thinking, “I can’t believe we did this, together!” We wandered the hilltop, snapping a gazillion pictures of temples, each other, the view. And then it was suddenly past time to begin our descent. We squirmed and wormed our way through the crowd that seemed to have mushroomed ten-fold since we arrived. Stumbling over rocky outcrops, slip-sliding over the stairs, we hurried back to the bottom and our waiting bus. It was an appropriately Olympian effort.
We made an unscheduled stop at Olympic (Panathenaic) Stadium, an impressive structure for 65,000 or more raucous fans. It was the site of the first Olympic Games, only open to Athenians. Later, they were open to all Roman citizens. Now, of course, they are are a global event, occurring at this moment in London. Athens hosted the summer games not long ago, Alika reminded us, and the city gained the modern metro system desperately needed to resolve traffic problems.
Our final stop was the Platka, from which our guide oriented us to all of the historic places we could set out on foot in the several hours we had to explore. Her words were lost on me, however. All I wanted at that moment was a quiet cafe, a seat in the shade, and a cold local brew. Gyros with freshly shaved meat, a couple of Alpha brews, yogurt with cucumber and fresh, warm pita and a round of baklavas … Yum. After which, I could imagine nothing better than to meander and shop because, surely, I have not yet spent enough money on this trip! Just doing my part for Greece, you know. These modern Greeks have had a rough go. The Platka was the place for us. ;=)