Our group met at Gatwick South Terminal and we left punctually with Aegean Airlines. Full marks to them for a spacious and comfortable seat, a generous luggage allowance and a very nice veggie meal with wine
Before I went, my family and friends, even some in the travel industry were full of scepticism about austerity and riots so now it’s time to dispel a few myths
Our approach to Athens airport revealed a clear blue sea, the lovely coastline of the Athenian Riviera and of course the city itself, just in time as the light faded very quickly to nightfall as we arrived.
Our hotel was situated in Syntagma Square, the home of the impressive Parliament building which occupies one side of the square. In the evening we went for a long walk around the city. After the Olympics in 2004 pedestrianised streets were created around the Acropolis making it a pleasant city to meander through and look at the shops, find a restaurant or bar or soak up the culture,
Other changes happened for the Olympics, a new airport, a decent metro and tram system have made Athens a very clean and pleasant city with a good infrastructure. I was very surprised how little traffic there was in the city
Our guide in Athens was Sofia who had had spent three years training to be a tour guide. She had so much knowledge and passion and spoke such good English we could not have had a more perfect guide for the weekend
Our first trip began with a whistle stop tour of the city including the impressve ancient Olympic stadium which seats 80,000 and is still used for some sports and open air concerts. A new stadium was bult elsewhere for the 2004 games. Cape Sounio is only about half an hour from the airport but we took the longer scenic coast road until we could see the Temple of Poseidon getting closer. Cape Sounio is so lovely and peaceful.
We were blessed with unusually good weather, not too hot and unusually not windy either for our visit Temple of Poseidon, which is impressive and quite well preserved. Poseidon was the God of the Sea so naturally the temple has a stunning view of the bay, the port and the beaches
Lunch and wine at Athens Gate was absolutely delicious and made from only local produce and the restaurant has stunning the entire city
After dinner at Electra Palace we went to Tepina nightclub and restaurant run by a Greek American called Chris. Prices of drinks were quite reasonable and a very entertaining group who didn’t start until almost midnight performed their own interpretations of all sorts of music and comedy until the early hours of the morning
Our last day came far too quickly and we slotted in an unexpected visit to the new Acropolis museum. Many ruins and artefacts were discovered when they demolished the army building to make way for the museum and the original foundations can be seen underneath the glass floors. This museum displays what remains of the famous marbles which Lord Elgin sold to the British Museum all those years ago. There are plaster casts of the ones in the British Museum to complete the jigsaw and the story that once belonged round the top of the Parthenon
From far away the Parthenon looks small and covered in scaffolding. You have to see it close to appreciate the sheer scale of it, the size of the columns and to imagine the magnificence of the palace it once was. The Parthenon suffered a lot of damage in the middle ages when the Phoenicians blew it up so only one side of it is reasonably well preserved but the scaffolding is to make it structurally sound and prevent further erosion so that future generations will be able to enjoy it. On one side of the Acropolis is the world’s first theatre. The arena is still clearly visible today
Coming down the grand marble steps from the Parthenon and The Erechtheion was treacherous as it was raining quite heavily and we had a chance to walk through the old part of the city and quickly visit some of the local shops before having another wonderful lunch at St George Lycabettus overlooking the Parthenon in the changing light before heading back to the airport