YOU might go to Athens for the Olympic Games this summer, but I guarantee you will be fascinated by the Acropolis and might even forget to join the crowd of spectators as you board a ferry in Pireaus to catch the cool winds around the islands.
Four-thousand-year-old Athens, steeped in eventful history, the cornerstone of Western culture, filled with memories of ancient Greek deities, homeland of Plato and Socrates, whose ideas revolutionised the course of Western philosophies.
You can visit three architectural marvels of the Old World – the Erechtheion, the Parthenon and the Temple of Olympian Zeus – the wonders of the Golden Age of Hellas, 2,400 years ago.
Alexander the Great expanded the influence of Athens deep into Asia Minor as did his successors. After them, the Romans ruled the city with respect for its cultural heritage. Hadrian’s Arch remains today and marks the boundary between Ancient Athens and the Roman city.
Athens might be known as the seat of modern democracy, where civilisation began, but you will probably remember it most for the delightful cafes and tavernas, the Greek coffee and ouzo. Ask for a ‘metrio’, which is strong, black coffee with sugar.
What does one eat in Athens? Here are some specialties: Dolmadakia, lamb served in vine leaves and stuffed with seasoned rice and currants; Zatziki – hilarious asking for the dish – and it consists of cucumber, yoghurt and garlic; Moussaka is layers of minced meat and eggplant on artichoke topped with a cheese sauce and baked in the oven. Freshly-caught fish and shellfish are another specialty served in Athens restaurants. Don’t forget to finish the meal with the tempting honey-filled pastries and Turkish coffee.
The Greeks are friendly and honest. A few years back, we left our bag containing passports and money in a taxi. There are about 4,000 taxis in the Greek capital, so we did not know how to identify our taxi but reported the loss to the nearest police station and to our embassy to obtain temporary pass-ports. Later that evening the police called our hotel to report that the driver at the end of his day had turned in the bag. Could we come and fetch it? Everything was there untouched – that is another reason I will always love the Greeks.
The Acroplis dominates the city and if you find the mid-day heat too much to venture outdoors, wait until the evening and watch the Sound and Light Show.
There are umpteen museums in Athens housing relics from its past, but if you have to miss them all but one, choose the Acropolis museum. If you are lucky, you might even catch actors performing an ancient Greek drama at the Theatre of Herodes Atticus at the base of the rock of Acropolis.
A typical sightseeing tour of Athens would include the Temple of Zeus, the Byzantine Museum, Benki Museum, Socrates Prison and the Ancient Agora. In the evening ask to join a tour which includes a display of folk dancing in the open air or a visit to a typical Greek taverna with bozouki music and folk dancing – and plenty of smashing of plates, but remember you pay for every plate you smash!
Souvenirs to take home might include woolen blankets and rugs, gold, silver and bronze wares, earthenware and black pottery, embroideries, woodcarvings – many of these handicrafts are produced on the Greek islands by local artists.
I hope you have pre-booked your hotel accommodation for the Olympic Games, for the hotels are going to be very full during the Games. It is understood that about 202 countries will be represented at the Olympic Games by more than 10,000 athletes with some 20,000 press, TV and other media representatives covering the Games.
In addition, 4,000 athletes will be participating in the Paralympics. In all, some five million spectators with tickets are expected to attend the 35 Olympics competition venues. Athens expects a total of 600,000 visitors to attend the Games as well as 17,000 rooms booked already for the athletes and officials, there will be accommodation for hire in cruise ships docked in the nearby Piraeus harbour.
Somehow it seems incongruous to pay for food and admissions in Europe with the Parthenon, which dates back to 447 BC, looking down on you, but Athens is a city which moves with the time hence the traffic jams in the middle of a summer night for this Immortal City never sleeps.
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