“To know nothing of what happened before you were born, is to forever remain a child”
We arrived to Athens during a week so hot it nearly topped the record for the area (45 C / 114 F). However, because we only spent two full days in Athens, we had no choice but to venture out in the blistering sun and brave the heat to see what people fly from all over the world to see in Greece…the Acropolis. I’m going to be completely honest here, even though this may be considered blasphemous to some, but I was not impressed. Perhaps it was due to the extreme discomfort of the sun and heat, which took away from the experience, but I thought it was over-priced and way too crowded. Of course, I realize that we visited during peak tourist season (July), so crowds were to be expected. I guess I prefer the off-the-beaten path travels focused more on activity and beautiful nature.
There are two options of admission tickets. One is for the Acropolis site only, and costs €20. Prices are reduced by 50% during winter (1 November and 31 March). The multi ticket is €30 and includes other surrounding sites (there is no discount in winter for the multi ticket.) The multi ticket includes entry to the Acropolis (the Parthenon and the Erechtheion) as well as some of the other main archaeological sites in Athens, including: Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, and the Archaeological Site of Lykeion. Neither ticket includes the Acropolis Museum, or any other museum in Athens, which are separate admission fees. The Acropolis Museum was only €5 and much more pleasant, as it was air-conditioned and artifacts were still in tact, often with a description underneath each. Unless you are a huge history or archeology buff, I would recommend the €20 ticket to the Acropolis only, and visit the museum separately, as I felt those two were enough. Especially since it was so hot, it wasn’t particularly safe to walk around for so long without a break from the heat.
Sasha found a brilliant app called Izi Travel, that includes free audio tours for sites all over the world. We have used this app in several countries now, to read up about the location we are visiting and have a free, personal guide to learn more about the attraction we are visiting. This is great to use in areas where free city walking tours are not available, or you are visiting a smaller attraction and don’t want to pay for a guide.
Here are some photos from our visit. PS: a wide-brimmed floppy hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, comfortable walking open-toed sandals, and a summer dress are a must here during summer if you don’t want to drown in your own pool of sweat.
There are plenty of restaurants and shops near the historic sights for a reprieve from the heat. Souvlaki and Moussaka are two very popular dishes.
Sasha and I were very lucky to stay with one of his friends whom he met while studying at MIT back in 2011. He lives in Athens with his family, so we got to see more of the local side of Athens. We visited a local Byzantine Monastery in the mountains.
If you are planning a trip to Mainland Greece, Delphi is a must-see. Just a 2.5-hour drive North of Athens, Delphi, with its quaint mountainous village towns and stunning overlooks, feels like a long way from bustling city life.
Where to Stay
Sasha and I spent two nights in Hotel Orfeas, which we found on Booking.com. We found a little trick to saving some money on accommodation, which is to check Booking.com for availability in an area, and then just show up and pay in cash when we arrive. The local owners are typically happy to have our business, and in almost all cases, they offered us a discounted rate from what we saw on the website since we were paying directly to them so they don’t have to pay the fees to Booking.com. We were usually able to knock off between €3 – €8 from the nightly rate, which sometimes included breakfast.
Our room was €30 per night, which included brekkie, AC, Wi-Fi, and this gorgeous view from our lanai (that’s the Hawaiian word for balcony.)
The main thing to do in Delphi is to visit the historic site: the Temple of Apollo, one of the Greek Gods. Greeks considered Delphi to be the center of the world, and it is now recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Apollo spoke through his oracle, which was said to be an older woman of a low caste among the peasants of the area. One myth describes the oracle to be alone in an enclosed sanctum, where she sat on a tripod over an opening in the earth (the “chasm”). According to the legend, when Apollo slew Python its body fell into this fissure and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by the vapors, the sibyl would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. In this state she prophesied, giving advice on the future.
My recommendation is to go early to beat the heat and the crowds. During summertime, the site opens at 8:00 AM when the morning light dancing off the ancient ruins is spectacular and calming.
Where to Eat
Just a few steps down the street from our hotel was a wonderful restaurant called Taverna Vakchos (“traditional Greek kuisine”) spelled with a “k”.
They make their own home-made baklava in slender sticks rather than the normal triangular-cut form you typically see it in. The food was delicious and local, the service was friendly (they all speak English well), and the view for sunset from their large covered lanai, couldn’t be beat.
We loved it so much we went back twice to eat dinner on both the nights we stayed in Delphi!
A beautiful fluorescent beetle landed on Sasha’s shirt, and it was for moments like these, that I am glad I have my camera by my side at all times.
We ordered the rooster in wine sauce and lamb stew, along with mountain-picked greens (pictured below). I have been craving greens since we left the states (leafy greens don’t seem to be a thing in Russia or Greece), so I was ecstatic to see something other than tomatoes, cucumber and peppers on the menu, especially since they were local. To our disappointment, this dish was not tasty. It basically felt like eating grass, and when we later found out that they are literally “edible weeds”, it all made sense. We won’t be ordering the mountain-picked greens again.
Taking afternoon and evening walks is often our favorite part of staying in a location, because it’s a great way to get to know the vibe of a place and the pace and culture of people’s daily lives. And often we get to see some pretty adorable animals, too!
But on this special day, we took a morning walk and we ran into the sweetest-looking elder gentleman who immediately smiled upon seeing us, and said “kalimera” (good morning). He asked us where we were from (we never know how to answer this question anymore), to which we replied “America”. He asked which state and we said, “Seattle, Washington.” His face lit up even more and he said “ahh, I was there in 1972 and I went up in the tower! Then I went to Vancouver in Canada and Napa Valley in California.”, all whilst smiling a huge, genuine smile. I told him that I worked for the big tower in Seattle called the Space Needle and that I was so happy that he got to go up to the top!
We made small chat for a while (his English was surprisingly good!), then as we were about to leave, I told him, “you have a wonderful smile.” We began to walk away when he started walking after us saying, “wait a minute”. When he reached me, he took my arm, got really close to me, looked at Sasha, then at me straight in the eyes and with another smile, said, “we Greeks have a saying that goes: ‘I smile because I want to love, not to hate.’” My heart melted right then and there (I have a huge soft spot for elderly people, especially men and especially ones who are so kind).
He continued by reaching out to a leaf of a nearby plant and touched it tenderly, saying, “I love this plant because it means something to us. I love everyone. You need to love and to be happy. Keep smiling.” I nearly cried. He had no idea that we had just gotten engaged and are feeling elated, and I thought it was excellent advice to give to a young couple!
We left feeling overjoyed and with a sense of restoration in humanity. The world will be all right with people like him. When we got back to our hotel (just two buildings down the street), I told Sasha that I wanted to go back to get a photo with him so that I could remember this story forever, so that I could pass his message on to other people.
We grabbed the camera and returned. He was so happy to see us again, even though it had only been two minutes. I hugged him and told him that his story of happiness and love made my day. I told him that I also believe in living a life like that; that it is so important to spread joy to other people and to choose love over hate, always. To smile at strangers and say hello to everyone because you never know what they are going through.
I asked what his name was and if I could take a photo with him. He said his name is Elias, and he was delighted to have his photo taken with me. He held my hands firmly in his and kissed me once on each cheek, then saw us off.
I think Elias will be one of the highlights of our whole travels, simply because of his incredible outlook on life. We need more people like Elias in this world.