Days 1-3: Athens

We’ve been looking forward to this trip to Europe for a very long time, and one of the things we were most worried about was jet lag ruining the start of our vacation. With this in mind, we spent the three days prior to our departure adjusting our sleep schedule. On Friday morning, we got up bright (?) and early at 3AM. Chad picked us up at 7AM and dropped us off at Dulles, where we waited for our 1PM flight to JFK.

We were a little concerned that the weather would cause some sort of major delay, but we only experienced minor delays that didn’t affect our overall schedule. We were on Delta for both the flight to JFK from Dulles as well as the flight from JFK to Athens. We did what we could to sleep on the flight across the Atlantic, only meeting with minor success. However long we actually slept, it must have been enough because we have not been jet lagged at all since we arrived.

We landed on Saturday morning at the Athens airport, which was build for the Olympics back in 2004. Since it’s such a new airport, it’s very easy to get in and out, and we were easily able to find our tour group, get on our bus, and head into downtown Athens where we would spend two nights at the NJV Athens Plaza. This hotel is perfectly situated, just across the street from Parliament and within walking distance of all of the historical sites we wanted to see.

Our room was one of the few that were not ready when we arrived, so we decided to walk down to “Souvlaki Row” for lunch. This is a small little side street that has been taken over by a few restaurants who have filled it with tables for al fresco dining. We randomly picked Thanasis where I enjoyed an amazing pork souvlaki while Courtney had an equally delicious chicken souvlaki. After lunch, we went back to the hotel, showered, and then walked to the National Archaelogical Museum. For seven euros each, we were able to view the most comprehensive collection of ancient Greek artifacts in the world. In addition to sculptures, pottery, and everyday items from the Greek civilization, there were also artifacts from the Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations. I have never seen so much gold all in one place.

After a few hours at the museum, we walked over to The Ant and the Cricket for dinner. When we sat down, they gave us our water, some fresh olives, and a free pre-dinner shot of some sort of clear alcohol. At least, we thought it was a pre-dinner shot. After we had toasted and consumed the beverage, we noticed that the glasses at the other tables near us were still full. Had we outed ourselves as ignorant Americans and messed up a Greek tradition? We sighed with relief when a Greek family sat down nearby part way through our meal, and three of the men immediately drank their appertif! Hooray! We weren’t stupid foreigners! 

For an appetizer, we decided on the fried gruyere with bacon, which was just as delicious as it sounds. I had an amazing pork dish with capers (a criminally under-utilized ingredient in America, in my opinion) called Santorini. Courtney had a lamb and eggplant dish topped with bechamel sauce called moussaka that she also really enjoyed. We both had a glass of the house Greek wine (varietal unknown) that perfectly complemented our meals that tasted very much like a sauvignon blanc.
We needed to stay up until at least 9PM to escape the worst of the jet lag, so after dinner, we walked back to the hotel where we had a small food and wine pairing in the hotel lounge. I chose a local cabernet, and Courtney had a sauvingon blanc blended with another local varietal. Both were delicious. Once we finished, we took the very tiny elevator up to our room and immediately crashed.

We woke early the next day and headed down to the mezzanine level for our complementary Greek breakfast. There was an assortment of breads, fruits, and smoked meats as well as yogurt and freshly squeezed juices. The breakfast, like every meal we would have in Athens, was great. After breakfast, we met our tour group to board the bus that would take us to the various sites we would visit before lunch. Our first stop was the Panathenaic Stadium, which was built on the site of the original Olympic stadium for the first modern games in 1896. It was restored to look exactly as it did in the 2nd century (miserable stone seating and all). It was an impressive structure, but nothing compared to what we would see throughout the day.

After snapping some photos, we got back on the bus in order to head over to the Acropolis museum. This museum is dedicated to artifacts found in or immediately surrounding the Acropolis, including original stone panels from the Parthenon itself. There is actually an active excavation of an ancient neighborhood going on immediately underneath the museum, and when they’ve finished, tourists will be able to walk through. After getting our fill of ancient sculptures, we left the museum and walked on foot up to the summit of the Acropolis itself. There we saw Mars Hill, where the Apostle Paul would have preached; the Odeon of Herodes Atticus; the Theater of Dionysus (see Facebook selfie); the Temple of Athena Nike; the Erechtheion; and, of course, the Parthenon. There was so much crammed into this small area that I wished we had more time there.

After touring the Acropolis, we returned to the hotel on our bus. There was an optional tour in the afternoon that would go to the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, but our ticket for the Acropolis also got us into a ton of other locations in Athens, so we decided to strike out on our own and follow the walking tour in the guide book we brought. We started off by walking to the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. The arch was my favorite part, as it literally says on one side, “This is Athens, ancient city of Theseus” and on the other side, “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.” I envision Hadrian as the Donald Trump of his era, putting his name on everything and letting everyone know how great he was.

From there, we walked through the gorgeous and compact side streets of Athens, through tightly knit neighborhoods speckled with free-roaming cats and dogs, around the back side of the Acropolis, down past the Roman Forum and Trump’s Hadrian’s Library to end up at the Ancient Agora. This enormous area was the main marketplace of Athens. It also has the best preserved temple in the city: the Temple of Hephaistos. This was probably my favorite location, not only because of its very pristine state, but also because you could get very close to it. Another cool building in the area is the Church of the Holy Apostles, an 11th century Christian church.

We finished off the day eating at Antica just outside the Agora where we had tzatziki, fried calamari, and an awesome Greek pizza that was neither thin crust nor thick crust.  I don’t know how they did it, but it was culinary magic. We wandered back to the hotel, relaxed in the room for bit, and then had another food and wine pairing in the lounge before hitting the sack.

This morning we packed our bags for pickup, had breakfast, checked out, and then walked through the National Gardens while we waited for our bus to the port. The gardens were gorgeous, cutting off the sounds of traffic from the outside to the point where you forget that you’re in a sprawling metropolis.  Nestled inside was a small zoo, a botanical museum, a playground, and even some ancient ruins. Building anything new in this city must be a nightmare. I imagine you have to stop every other day when you uncover something ancient that must now be preserved.

After strolling through the gardens, we boarded the bus and made our way to the cruise port.  We have checked in, boarded, and I’m writing this from our awesome stateroom as we await our muster drill. There’s a lot to say about the ship, but as we have a full sea day tomorrow, I will just wait until then. I’m really excited for Italy, Monaco, and France. We’re just getting started!

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