Athens, Greece

Athens was the first of 4 cities that made up a 12-day South Eastern European trip scheduled perfectly into my fall reading week. The plan for this trip was to go to Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece, then straight to Skopje, Macedonia for a few days, going further up to Belgrade, Serbia and then fly to our final stop in Istanbul, Turkey before returning back to school in Marseille.

To kick-start the trip, three of my friends from residence and I flew straight into Athens. The flight to Athens over the Greek Islands was picturesque as countless islands of all shapes and sizes were visible atop the turquoise Mediterranean water. If there was ever a time to have a window seat, it was now. It’s a shame that we never had the time to explore these island archipelagos in person.

Upon arrival, the weather was incredibly warm and the atmosphere peaceful; the citizens did not appear to be facing the trouble the news claimed them to be in. In fact, for my entire visit here the people were very friendly with no inkling of a riot or public demonstration.

The first day we arrived, we visited the city square and surrounding streets where the riots usually take place. As you walk through the square, you begin to notice the aftermath of previous riots: broken street lamps, graffiti, smashed tiles and portions of marble stairs and railings removed. But when you glance as an overview, everything looks quite normal.

The hostel we stayed at was for 4 people and had so much living room and kitchen space that it felt like a hotel. There was a rooftop bar available from the hostel that provided a nice view of the surrounding buildings as well as the lit-up Acropolis mountain. We chatted on the rooftop for a few hours and even received free “welcome” shots!

The very next morning we began a guided tour at 10 a.m. that lasted over 5 hours and gave us an almost too in-depth history of many buildings in Athens. However, the tour did touch upon the most iconic sites.

These are the remains of the temple of Zeus; a building once considered the essence of architecture, tribute and triumph destroyed by fire in 426 AD.

Directly across from this is what remains of Hadrian’s Arch.

The next stop was a nice surprise as it was the grounds of where the first Olympics were held in 1896. The name of the building we were allowed a peak into was the Zappeion, which held fencing at the time of the Olympics and are now used for meetings and assemblies. There was a photoshoot happening at the time I took this photo, which makes the shot even more captivating.

Lined the perimeter of this building are the infamous Greek portokali trees, which are just oranges that are so sour that many find them repulsive to eat. I tried one and it was true; they are quite nasty. But they are not completely useless since they apparently have found an alternate use in riots as juice projectiles!

Heading back to the city square, we walked in front of the Hellenic Parliament Building where every hour on the hour is the changing of the guards in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the formal court of the building. Despite the fact it’s such a frequent occurrence, the changing of the guards brings in quite a crowd each time.

Around noon we broke off and had a fantastic lunch of pitas. I’ll say it now that Greek food is absolutely delicious. Of all the places I’ve visited, Greece had incredibly filling meals at fair prices. Pitas, gyros and souvlaki are absolutely delectable and I ate endless amounts of them. The Greek gelato and yogurt made for great desserts afterward. I highly recommend authentic Greek food; it’s some of the best out there.

It was at this point we separated from the tour group and began our own adventure wandering up the mountain to the Acropolis and getting some amazing views. The walk up is actually quite pleasant as the roadway has been paved and made for pedestrians. But, getting to the top of the Acropolis isn’t free unless you can prove you’re a European student, which we technically were. That saved each of us from the 12 Euro admission price and the chance to see the most famous area in Greece. Despite the fact that Acropolis has greatly deteriorated since its prime, the pictures of the Parthenon and the view of Athens from such a height is simply amazing. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

Checking out a few night clubs later that evening, that was about all we had time for in Athens. Everything was very peaceful and I left with a very good impression of the city. We then took a train all the way to Thessaloniki — an excruciating 8 hour ride — but didn’t get the chance to stay more than an hour in the city since we had arrived JUST before the Skopje bus arrived. As much as I wanted to stick around and explore Thessaloniki, to give up such a perfectly timed transportation schedule would have been foolish. So it was off to Macedonia!

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This blog entry is part of the publication Robert Cekan Travels & was originally written on November 13, 2012

Robert Cekan is a young entrepreneur and proud Hamiltonian. He is the founder of the Hamilton discovery website True Resident, as well as Cekan Group, a property management group. He is also a Hamilton REALTOR® with Ambitious Realty Advisors Inc., Brokerage and an active blogger.

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