Athens Day/Night 4 – Top of the Hill

My go-go-go pace over the last couple of weeks had begun to take a toll on my 44 year old frame – blisters on my toes, sore knees and back and other assorted ailments. With that in mind, I decided before I tried to tackle the climb to the Acropolis, I needed some time off. Alex had told me the beach was fairly accessible via Syngmata Square so I hopped on the quick metro ride over there and made my way to the tram line.

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The tram went directly to a seaside restaurant called Edem, which shared the name with the tram stop for it – easy enough. Thanks to the way that Athens allows 90 minutes on any of the public transportation options, I was able to use the same ticket with the tram. It was a relatively new system, built for the 2004 Olympics and the ride was pleasant although I can imagine not so much in a few weeks. One interesting aspect is that since it’s essentially a straight line to the beach, with a few curves, the tram line hits all kinds of neighborhoods, including one where a lot of the Syrian refugees have landed.

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As the tram pulled up to the Edem stop, I could see the Edem Restaurant sign across from it. The wind had really picked up, and I could hear various flags loudly flapping. Still, it was a nice natural A/C so I didn’t mind it so much. I picked the last available table that directly faced the Mediterranean, which made for a very nice view.

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Given the location, it only seemed natural to order seafood so I decided to see how the Greek version of grilled octopus stacked up against the Croatian (or Montenegran for that matter) The octopus was nicely cooked and seasoned but I wasn’t crazy about the pickled vegetables that accompanied it. So, probably my least favorite meal thus far but with that view, I let it slide.

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After lunch, I walked a bit on the beach, admiring the greenish blue water and some of the would-be Adonises sunning themselves. It was now a bit before 4PM so I made my way back to the tram and once again to Syngmata Square, this time taking the metro over to the Acropolis station, only one stop away. I had read that approaching the Acropolis would save me about 80 steps, which sounded very appealing.

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I walked past the New Acropolis Museum and headed up a nice wooded path to the entrance of the Acropolis. Alex had told me a good time to go up is right after the 5PM tour groups. I actually made it up to the entrance faster than anticipated so I picked a spot in the shade and watched various groups show up with guides speaking multiple languages – everything from what seemed to be a high school field trip to some kind of team building exercise for a company based on their matching shirts.

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I waited until I could no longer see them in my immediate view and headed up to the entrance, handing over the last of my rapid deteriorating multi pass. The first part was fairly easy, a series of newer concrete steps that switchbacked up to a pretty nice view along with the Theatre of Dioynsus below, which was in the process of being set up for its summer series there. After that more steps, this time a bit steeper that once again ended in a nice view – this time a higher perspective of the theatre and the surrounding area.

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The final set of stairs were actually the ancient steps leading up to the top of the Acropolis. These were a bit challenging but made easier due to a sidewinder style of entrance, required given all of the people trying to go up at once. My knees were killing me by now but I had made it… almost. About 2 steps from the first flat surface, I all of the sudden went completely sideways up in the air. The 2000 year old marble had been refined to a very smooth surface and as I lost my grip, I let out a strange guttural noise while I heard gasps from the tourists around me. I called this a tie with The Fates as they clearly caused me to slip but also decided to give me only a minor injury. The litre bottle of water I had with me acted as a crutch to soften the blow so while I landed on my right knee and wrist, I somehow only had a minor bruise/scrape. I also served as a live visual aid for watching for the slick marble stone as various guides pointed over to me and cautioned their respective groups.

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Once the shock wore off, I hobbled my way over to the real vista from the top of the rock. It was clear why this spot was so coveted and holy to various entities that occupied it. Even this cat knew that this was the place to be.

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Typical of national monuments there was scaffolding covering large sections of it but as I made my way around to the side, I could see at least some of what it used to look like in its glory days.

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A fort had also been established on the site, which jutted out over one of the sides of the hill with the Greek flag waving.

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The tip turned out to be a good one because while there were a lot of tour groups, there were very few individual explorers like myself so I was able to get away from the throngs and get some relatively clean shots. There was no shade at all but thankfully the weather had cooled a bit. I can’t imagine being up there when it’s super hot in the middle of the day with what I’m sure is also wall to wall people based on the various rope lines I noticed – nooo thanks.

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As cliched as it sounds, it’s really something better seen in person than in any photos like these. It truly is a Wonder of the World. Built in only 9 years, it’s still considered to be an architectural marvel with its interlocking marble frame.

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After about an hour, I made the climb down, making damn sure to avoid the slick marble this time! I made it to the bottom of the hill and by this time, my knee was starting to really hurt so I decided to take a taxi. There was a stand nearby but when I told them where I was going, the cabbie said it would be 18 Euros, which was absurd. So as I matter of principle, I continued walking down the hill until I arrived at the metro station, where I found a very friendly cabbie who told me about how the economy had been rough on him, especially with the “you know, the black, these Syrians” coming there every day. Oh and it was 5 Euros.

After assessing the damage on my knee, which again was nominal, I had to make a decision how far I could go for dinner. I really wanted to get that amazing chicken dish again at Melilotos but that was only accessible via the pedestrian walkway. However, I did also need to get some Euros for my taxi to the airport tomorrow so I figured I would walk until I found an ATM and then stop for dinner somewhere around there.

I walked past the beer place I had been to and asked where the closest ATM was, apparently close to the metro station. As I got to the station, I realized that Melilotos wasn’t that much farther, from what I recalled. The catch was I didn’t have Internet access so I couldn’t look it up in Google Maps. Still, I was pretty sure I remembered where it was – or so I thought. Not entirely sure where I was, I stopped someone walking with what seemed to locals heading home except it was actually a group of tourists from Buenos Aires. So much for that idea. I hobbled up another street that looked familiar but I was starting to doubt I was in the right area.

The last thing I needed was to waste a lot of time walking down the wrong streets so I called uncle and walked over to a nearby hotel to ask. It turned out my initial instinct was correct, and I was only 2 blocks away. Huzzah!

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The difference between Sunday night and now Wednesday was palpable as the adjoining bars were now packed with people enjoying the nice night. My server recognized me and gave me the last table outside, which faced out right onto the action of the square. I told her my final meal had to be the chicken leg and she promised to take care of me. Shortly after the chef came out to say hello and I said how excited I was to have the dish again. They were still out of the beer I wanted to try so this time I opted for their house red, which wasn’t bad at all.

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Finally, the dish arrived, with a bit more flair than last time and the different marmalade, pumpkin. It was still fantastic although I slightly preferred the tomato marmalade. Sated and very happy, I said my goodbyes and hobbled down the street. I wanted something sweet and found it with a delicious pistachio ice cream. My taxi would arrive at 7:30 AM so as much as I wanted to join in the reveries all around me, I knew that I had to be practical about it.

As I made one final walk through Psrri, I reflected on what an amazing trip this had been. I had dubbed it my ancient Europe trip, and that’s really what it was. I had seen so many incredible monuments of fascinating historical value and just sheer awesome in scope/size. The people had been amazing, the food outstanding and the sights breathtaking. Pretty much can’t get better than that.

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