Parthenon & The Acropolis

The day we returned to Athens from Skiathos, there was still enough daylight to hike up the Acropolis, on which the Parthenon and other ruins sit. It was blazing hot, and we were weary from our return trip from the island. But we were nearing the end of our time in Greece, and – not only was the Acropolis still very much on our to-do list – but once a month, they offer free admission to the site (normally around $15 per ticket).

That free admission day was this day. If we didn’t take advantage of the free admission, we’d still go another day before leaving. We’d just have to pay $30 that we’d rather spend on souvenirs.

We were still feeling adventurous (and frugal) so we dropped off our packs at home, readied some water bottles with lemonade (featuring fresh lemon juice from our lemon trees in Skiathos!), and walked to the subway station. Next stop, Akropoli.

DSC_0097

DSC_0114-3

DSC_0099

DSC_0111-2

The hill to the top was somewhat steep, with small ruins littered about. Soon enough, we came upon those ancient stone steps, and up we went.

DSC_0124-3

We were a little disappointed by all the scaffolding, but the Parthenon was still pretty impressive.

DSC_0167-3

DSC_0158

You can see where they’ve restored/recreated some of the missing pieces in order to rebuild parts of it. We made sure to point out to our nephews that some of the pieces look remarkably similar to Legos.

DSC_0131-2

DSC_0132-2

From the top, there was much to see. Lots of other edifices surrounded the Parthenon, although there was very little information provided about which building was which. Regardless, it was surreal to imagine what it must have all looked like 2500 years ago.

DSC_0174-2

DSC_0164

DSC_0180-2

I love this next photo, and I wish I knew exactly what we were looking at. Allison likes to point out her toasty, sunburned feet shmeared with a coat of shiny sunscreen.

DSC_0141

The view was great. You could see all of Athens, all the way out to the sea on the western horizon. You could also see lots of other Athenian landmarks, like the Temple of Hephaestus, the Temple of Zeus, and the Panathenaic Stadium.

DSC_0116

We’d hike down to the temple of Hephaestus by sunset.

It was cool to see the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch from up there, and seeing some of those areas that we had explored earlier in our wanderings around the city.

DSC_0144-2

The Panathenaic Stadium stadium was originally built around 500 B.C. and more recently reconstructed/restored just over 100 years ago on the remains of the ancient stadium. Shortly after it’s restoration, it was the site of the world’s first modern Olympic Games, held in 1896.

DSC_0153-3

On the way back down, there was still plenty more to see.

DSC_0231-2

DSC_0214

DSC_0222-2

DSC_0225-2

DSC_0228

Down at the bottom of the hill (just across from the market at Monastiraki), we walked through the Museum of the Ancient Agora. We didn’t take photos inside the smaller rooms where they displayed a variety of artifacts, including ancient pottery, tools, jewelry, demolished spear tips, and even a heavily worn, battle-damaged Spartan shield. It might have been the only thing in the whole place that I genuinely cared about. I wondered about the man who bore it, what battle he was fighting, and his family that he likely left behind.

Outside those smaller rooms were these large halls with modern replicas of the columns that once stood in their place, housing the headless sculptures of ancient gods and generals.

DSC_0260

DSC_0255

DSC_0253

Outside the museum, we walked through the garden grounds of the Agora.

Agora means “gathering place,” and we’re told that it was a favorite spot for some of the great minds of their time, including Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates.

DSC_0265

DSC_0268b

It was cool to see ancient ruins mingled with a Byzantine church built centuries later.

DSC_0264

DSC_0289-2

DSC_0293

The open grounds of the Agora have many pathways leading all over, but the one we took led us right to the Temple of Hephaestus. We got there just as the sun was waning in the western sky.

DSC_0285-2

DSC_0280

DSC_0282-2

The sun continued to set, and – with the sunlight – our energy levels grew dim.

We made it back home after a subway ride and an 800-mile hike back to our apartment. We were so exhausted.

With this and so many other boxes checked off on our to-do list before leaving Greece, we were beginning to feel the reality of our approaching departure date.

It was a good feeling. We were about ready to return home to Utah.

At this point, I had written off the idea of a motorcycle ride here in Greece. We were barely able to afford the trip to Skiathos, after all. I was trying to convince myself that I’d be fine without my daydream of renting another motorbike and riding through Corinth and across the Peloponnese peninsula to Sparta.

I consoled myself with the fact that we did get to see and do so many amazing things already, and that I was able to ride a bike all through the amazing Tuscan hills of Italy, earlier in our travels. The trip had been a great adventure and I was trying to be satisfied with it all.

Secretly, though, some part of my consciousness was doing everything possible to make that Sparta ride happen.

. . . there’s no need for a spoiler alert, right? At this point, you all know what’s coming next.

Skiathos | Part No. 3 : What We Needed

There are literally hundreds of photos that Allison and I took on Skiathos. I’ll share some of our very favorites that didn’t make it into Part No. 1 or No. 2 of these posts.

Here are more from the boat tour around the island that moody day.

DSC_0550

DSC_0554

DSC_0539

DSC_0598

DSC_0566

DSC_0623

On the far side of the island, the wind blows so hard, so consistently, that trees actually grow sideways.

DSC_0635

DSC_0665

Happily, those winds were pretty mild that day.

DSC_0675

DSC_0685

Our captain stopped the boat at a handful of remote beaches that day, each with their own unique beauty. Our last stop before heading back to port was to one of the small neighboring islands.

DSC_0027-2

DSC_0043

DSC_0060

Neither of us could believe the color of the sea there, or how incredibly clear it was.

The boat tour was a great way to end our long weekend on Skiathos. It was one of the most touristy things we did the whole time we were gone this spring.

 

Some of my favorite moments on Skiathos were in the down-time. We spent a lot of time hiking from place to place. I have fond memories of waiting in the sun at bus stops, passing the time taking photos while we waited for the bus to town.

DSC_0243

DSC_0242-2

DSC_0239

DSC_0241

I think back now on how luxurious it all felt, and how absurd it was for a couple of poor freelancers to be doing it. We did everything we could to stretch a dollar (or a euro, if you prefer). We even hiked on foot up that steep, ungodly hill to our house, rather than spend the 10 euros for the taxi. We cooked a lot of our own food, balancing that with sampling the local cuisine.

The few times we did eat out, we made sure to save Wi-Fi passwords for the restaurants we went to, since we didn’t have internet at our house; later, we would walk over and sit near those same restaurants just to jump onto their Wi-Fi . . . you know, to check our bank account and make sure we still had enough to make it back to Athens.

Skiathos was a special place for us. A much-needed break from work, from emails – and, frankly – from Athens. In stark contrast, Skiathos seemed completely set apart from the woes of the Greek economy and the dirty, unkempt, melancholy metropolis we would soon return to.

Skiathos represented something, I think. More than just a touristy destination, or a beautiful island paradise. It was the fruits of our labors, an achievement, and simultaneously it was luck, blessing, generosity, and serendipity. It was nature. Sweat. Sunburns. Smiles. Fresh lemons for our pasta.

It was just what we needed.

DSC_0088-2

DSC_0090-2

 


 

Of course there are way more photos. We’re posting lots more on our Facebook page.

Skiathos | Part No. 2 : Lalaria Beach

The morning of our boat tour around the island of Skiathos was cool and dreary – typically my favorite kind of weather – but only for when I’m smothered in blankets with a mug of hot chocolate in hand. Not as ideal for when I’m swimming in the chilly sea, scantily clad.

The brooding clouds made the normally bight turquoise waters dark and mysterious. Hints of sunshine would fight to make its way through the mist only to be swallowed up again a few minutes later.

Our boat seemed sturdy enough on the calmer sea waters, though the array of crosses, talisman, and saints displayed optimistically at the helm echoed the foreboding feel of the weather.

DSC_0367-2

The northern part of the island juts out of the water forming huge, steep cliffs that on this day looked particularly dramatic above the stormy waters.

DSC_0511b

As we rounded the island, we caught sight of one of the most famous beaches in Greece, Lalaria.

DSC_0440

Lalaria’s smooth, gray stones that line the beach and the hollow arch in the rock have made it so popular among tourists and photographers that it has solidified Skiathos’ reputation worldwide.

After being there for only a few minutes, the clouds mercifully dissipated. The aquamarine waters, the pale jagged cliffs, brilliant purple wildflowers, and gray-green pebbles made this one of our favorite spots of the entire trip.

DSC_0483

DSC_0464

DSC_0452

DSC_0481

With the sun finally out, we were tempted to just sit on this beautiful beach and enjoy the warmth of the sun and serenity of the crashing waves.

Sitting on the beach was nice. But all of the sudden, I realized how silly it seemed to have come all this way and not swim out there. It would be cold. And I’m still a little scared of the sea creatures.

“Let’s just do it,” I said. He grinned in response.

01

02

04

03

05

06

 

08

Skiathos | Part No. 1 : Island Paradise

About a week after our arrival to Greece in early April, Jeff and I were invited to attend a dinner party with our host and her good friends. One of them was gracious enough to invite us to stay at her house on one of the islands up north, Skiathos. We excitedly accepted the offer, but decided to wait until our work schedule freed up a bit and when the weather would be warmer – and honestly, we had to make sure there was sufficient play-money to justify the cost of buses, ferries, taxis, etc.

Things lined up near the end of May. We traveled by bus from Athens to the port city of Volos, where we sat on the pier and ate a picnic lunch of hard boiled eggs and oranges before boarding a ferry to Skiathos. We were thrilled to see a small pod of dolphins swimming alongside our ferry, at one point, but they were too quick for the camera.

After about 45 minutes, the ferry slowed and we pulled into the main port of the island.

DSC_0068-2

Skiathos is a tiny island, about 7 miles by 4 miles, but played some significant historical roles as a key defensive point in the naval battles with the Persians and is also the site where the first modern Greek flag was created and flown.

To us, it was a quiet, beautiful getaway.

Away from the noisy, dirty (dare I say complainy?) city of Athens, Skiathos was charming, inviting, and cultivated. The friendly locals seemed very proud of their island paradise, and it showed in the way they kept the town freshly painted, the streets clean, and the beaches mostly undisturbed.

DSC_0124-2

DSC_0133

DSC_0222

DSC_0159-2

Luckily for us, we had arrived still early in the season, so we missed out on the throngs of college kids that would arrive in the months ahead. Most of the other tourists were our senior by about 30 years. Unluckily though, our early arrival also meant that the waters were still frigid.

The main part of town is very quaint with cobbled, winding lanes that seem to transport you back in time as you wander past churches, shops, homes, and restaurants.

DSC_0163

DSC_0177-2

DSC_0190
DSC_0205

DSC_0204

DSC_0152

DSC_0148-2

DSC_0153-2

One of the first things we did was find a private stretch of beach, where we took turns nervously stripping down and changing into our swimwear behind a rock while the other was lookout. We sat in the cold sand with the waves lapping at our feet and bright sun keeping us warm. This is one of several moments during our travels that we chose not to capture on camera; that memory is just for us.

Once we were ready for more exploring, we hiked back up the beach and started strolling around the town.

DSC_0067

DSC_0114-2

DSC_0111

DSC_0092

DSC_0058-2

DSC_0051

At this point, we took a taxi up the steep hills to the home of our host where we would stay for the next four days. Our host lives and works in Athens, but her mother lives here on their Skiathos property, with a delightful housekeeper who cares for her (and everything else).

It was lovely. We had the bottom floor apartment all to ourselves, separate from the rest of the large property. Outside, the grounds were covered in morning glories, roses, and lemon trees. Chickens roamed freely, miraculously undisturbed by the many cats (I counted at least eight) that shared the yard with them.

DSC_0074

DSC_0078-2

DSC_0079-2

DSC_0007-2

This is Artemis. I love her. She is one of the friendliest cats I’ve ever known.

DSC_0018-2

The housekeeper, Voula, had her own apartment on the property. She spoke no English. She was so sweet. She brought us freshly cut flowers, eggs (still warm from the chickens), tomatoes, feta cheese, milk, bread, and olive oil. Along with some pasta that we brought along, plus a lemon that we plucked from one of the trees outside, we now had everything we needed for one of our favorite pasta dishes.

DSC_0024-2

The next morning, we skipped the expensive taxi ride and walked all the way down to the beach. The views coming down the hill were incredible.

DSC_0030-2

DSC_0036-2

Cold as the water was, I waded in.

DSC_0042

Jeff put down the camera and followed me in. He was in about up to his neck, while I barely made it in waist-deep. It was then that I noticed something clear and plastic-looking floating near Jeff. I looked a little more closely. It was definitely a jellyfish.

The only thing I know about jellyfish is that they sting you and hurt really bad, and then you have to pee on yourself.

Now we could see them everywhere. We hurried out of the water, and made it out unscathed.

We decided it was time to find a nicer beach.

 

Skiathos boasts some of the best beaches in the world. One of the main beaches, Koukounaries (translated: pine cones), has a fresh water lake behind it, only yards away from the shoreline.  But it’s most famous for the powder-soft sand.

DSC_0271

DSC_0266

After our earlier close-encounter with the jellyfish, I was nervous of both scary underwater sea creatures and the cold temperatures. This time Jeff scouted it out first. Then I braved the waters. We waded for a few minutes in the cold water before Jeff went back to retrieve the GoPro camera. He came back out in the water and handed it off to me. Wanting to impress him and make a cool video clip, I impulsively took the first plunge.

001

002

We played in the water a while, ate another picnic lunch of hard boiled eggs and oranges, laid around, and finally packed up to leave. I made sure to collect some of the amazingly fine sand in a sandwich bag as a souvenir.

DSC_0258

We hiked for a while back to the road, then hiked a little more until we found a bus stop. We were pretty sun-toasted by the time we got on a bus back to the port. The AC was lovely.

Once we got back, we found a nice little lounge where we bought sodas and sat in the shade a while.

DSC_0227-2

It was getting to be evening-time, and we were ready for some food. I needed a Nutella crepe.

DSC_0229-2

Jeff went for the pork gyros (of course).

DSC_0231

Once we were fed, we went exploring again. This time, we hiked up to the clock tower on the hill.

From the top you can see the old Medieval fort, built to protect the island from marauding pirates, and far out at sea you can start to make out the amassing gray cloud of seagulls as they swarm incoming fishing boats.

DSC_0283

003

The views from atop the the hill overlooking the town are stunning and romantic. The misty, humid sea air gave the town a soft haze in the fading light.

DSC_0336

DSC_0305

DSC_0324

DSC_0337

004

Jeff set up his camera to capture some time-lapse, and we stayed up there relaxing until dark.

DSC_0344

In my research about this place, I had learned that there were certain amazing beaches on this island that can only be reached by boat. The more we thought about it, the more we wanted to take a boat tour around the island to see them in person. So, on the way home that night, we walked along the pier and found one of the old, weathered boat tour operators that offered exactly the tour we were hoping for.

We bought our tickets for the next day, and smiled the rest of the way home.

Athens: All Around Town

Athens: All Around Town

Having already mentioned some of the disappointments that we faced in Athens, I feel like we’re now free to share some of our favorite bits of it. As I said before, we went in with somewhat lofty expectations about living there; once we re-adjusted those expectations, we were better able to enjoy some of the beauty and wonder of that ancient-city that has somehow lasted (if just barely) into the 21st century.

The street we lived on is called Xenias. Like so many neighborhoods in Athens, it was almost completely lined with orange trees.

(Again, click on any image to see it full size)

There was such a mix of old and new. The styles of architecture varied quite a bit from building to building. It wasn’t uncommon to see more modern structures that were simply built up around 2500 year-old ruins or (relatively newer) churches from the Byzantine era (roughly 300-1400s).

Most of the photos you see here were taken in the Monastiraki neighborhood near the Acropolis (which you can see on the hill in the background of some of these). It’s a great place to explore on foot. There are modern, trendy stores in the outdoor mall nearby, a variety of restaurants, a flee market, street performers, etc etc.

You’re also within walking distance of the Temple of Hephaestus, the Museum of the Ancient Agora, and other sites that you’ll probably want to see while you’re visiting the Acropolis (more to come on those in another post).

Nearly every rooftop and alley was patrolled by prowling felines. And, whenever possible, Allison made every effort to befriend them.

Like I said, it was a bit surreal to see the way ancient ruins mingled with modern development. The neighborhoods surrounding the Acropolis are a good place to see that contrast. And being only a few metro stops from where we lived, we actually made our way there a number of times. Although you had to be on guard against those types that prey on tourists, it was a nice place to walk around, shop for souvenirs, and do some people-watching.

This little goof was sitting there pretending to be a street musician while his sister was busy super-gluing coins to the exterior of this apartment.

“Hey you!” he yelled at me. “I like money! Give me money!”

“Play me a song,” I suggested, demonstrating my air-guitar skills.

Displaying exactly zero effort, he strummed the strings twice and stuck out his hand.

Now, as a general rule, I support street musicians, kids with lemonade stands, etc, nearly any time I get the chance – as long as I feel I’m encouraging the pursuit of talent and entrepreneurship. But in this case, with the snearing, bratty behavior and no attempt to play even a hint of a tune – all while his sister applied super glue to another coin from their collection and proceeded with sticking it to the side of this apartment – I couldn’t help but laugh at these two in their designer jeans, yelling “give me money” at passersby – money that they wouldn’t even try to earn – all before gluing it to the wall. It was such a great little microcosm of Greece’s economic crisis, and I had no inclination to provide any positive reinforcement.

No coins for you.

 

The neighborhoods all around the Acropolis were spotted with monuments and ruins. Some you could walk right up to, others were behind gates. Anywhere there wasn’t already a building, vibrant flowers and earthy olive trees stood out against darkly colored pines and cypress.

This is all that remains of the Temple of Zeus, after one of several attacks sustained by Athens over the centuries. It sits adjacent to Hadrian’s Arch.

It was incredible to see the precision in the way these ancient stones were cut and fit – and without any mortar. I have a thing for texture, which you can see more of in this blog post for our web media studio, VagabondOriginal.com.

 

We got around primarily on foot and via the metro. And while “the Tube” in London is still the easiest subway system either of us have ever navigated, this one in Athens was really pretty good. Certainly cleaner and easier to use than the subway in New York City (yikes).

On the walk down the busy road between our metro stop and our apartment in the Ambelokipi neighborhood, Allison was always pleased by the magnolias and bougainvillea along the way.

The bright bougainvillea was nearly everywhere you look. It’s maybe the one thing I miss about Athens.

. . . actually, one of two things that I miss.

Beauty and charm aside, my favorite thing about our neighborhood was the gyro place a couple blocks away.

Our First Days in Athens

When we arrived in Athens, we were exhausted. In London and Italy, we were in full tourist mode; the constant walking and exploring wiped us out, so our first few days in Athens were spent relaxing in our new apartment. We got settled in, set up our work stations, and gave the blisters on our feet some time to heal.

But we couldn’t wait to go out and explore some more. Our first outing was sort of a scouting mission.

 

The Acropolis was only three metro stops away from our apartment. It sits on a tall hill in the center of Athens.

On this first trip, we hiked about half-way up the hill to the Parthenon and other ancient ruins that you probably associate with Greece.

There was a lovely place along the hike where we were able to take in our first real views of the city. It was amazing to think of just how old this place was. What it must have looked like 2500 years ago. How devastating it must have been for the Athenians to see their temples and people ravaged by the Persian invaders. How triumphant it must have felt to finally beat them back and reclaim Greece as their own. This is the birthplace of modern democracy. Its ancient people changed the world.

It was an awesome, surreal feeling to walk there.

In the coming weeks, we started exploring some of the coastline outside of the city. The first little section of beach that we found (and would return to several times) was near the town of Glyfada.

The beach was quite rocky, and the breeze and the setting sun quickly brought a comfortable chill to the heat of the day.

Across the sea, the tall mountain peaks of the Peloponnese peninsula were definitely calling out to us. At this point in our travels, we’d had a few setbacks and we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to make it out there. I desperately wanted to explore them on a motorcycle. It should be no secret, by now, that we were eventually able to do just that.

In the moment, there on the beach, I was just eager to roll up my pant legs and walk my feet into the Aegean Sea. It was very cold, this time of year, which made it all that much more invigorating. I remembered thinking, “This is why I freelance.”

Allison inspected the beach for a collection of sea glass.

It was humbling to be there. We’d already worked so hard to make this happen, and had to overcome some real challenges. There on the beach, watching the sunset, we were keenly aware of how blessed we are with friends, talents, opportunity, and circumstance; and those things had helped us face down some adversity on our way here.

As I said in my previous post, Greece would have more of those difficult times for us. But even those most challenging episodes were punctuated with moments like these.

 


Find more of my stuff on VAGABONDORIGINAL.COM or find me: