Friday, August 12, 2011

The Ruins of Athens

We only had one full day to explore Athens as our plan is to also go to Hydra island while we are here and then we are off to Paxos on Saturday. We left our hotel quickly in an attempt to catch the shuttle bus that was leaving at 10:30 - turns out the bus leaves the hotel at 10:15 so we were actually very early for the 11:30 one.  Oh well... that's life right?

We were dropped off near Syntagma Square which is an area that has a lot of shopping and is close by many of the national monuments such as the Acropolis, the Olympic Stadium and more.  As we drove to the Syntagma Square we saw the Temple of Olympian Zeus and decided that would be our first stop.

However, the kids seemed to forget what it was like to walk everywhere and whined the whole way.  Funny how a summer out of the city can do that to a kid huh?  So it was off to the Temple!  We got to the Temple via some gardens that the kids enjoyed running down secret paths as Liam calls them.

Walking thru the gardens

Liam told us he was a cool kid when his hat is turned around
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was built between 124 and 132AD.  However parts of it had been started around 500 BC.  Amazing that these structures are still around at all!!  The picture below I think best describes the Temple (mainly because I took the picture of the description outside the temple).
Description of the temple you are about to see

It was amazing how many things were just out in the open and unprotected... they would have DO NOT TOUCH signs out.  Yes, my family respected that, but how many really will?  I think it's great that they trust the public but at the same time, once it's gone, it's gone.
Liam at the Gateway to Olympieion (this is how they spelled it, not me)
Not sure what these ruins were but took a picture anyways

Aidan has no idea who Zeus was but now I need to get him a book on Greek gods

Different angle and yes it looked different when viewed from all sides due to what was still left standing - and by the way, this structure was HUGE, amazing how tall it was and how they were able to build such things over 2000 years ago!

View of the Acropolis from the Temple of Olympian Zeus

More columns still standing and a few that were not

Yet another angle where you can see more of the columns behind

Straight on view

And yet another view... I know, I'm done, I promise...

I believe this is the remains of some of the homes which would have been built 5th BC - 2nd AD

This looks like a sargophogus to me but somehow I feel like they would not have left it out like this if it were???  Though maybe the body would have been removed at this point...

Near what I would consider the entrance, or at least the street side, of the Temple, there was a large entryway.  It turns out this is Hadrian's Gate which was built from 131-132AD and once again rather than reiterate what I took a picture of, you can read the history below if you are interested :)
Description of Hadrian's Gate

The actual Hadrian's Gate...
It turned out there was more for us to see here than we first realized when entering the open museum.  I thought it would be just the Temple and the Gate and that's it... but there were also the houses and the Roman Baths which was also very cool to see.

Roman Baths...when we explained what they were to Aidan, public bathing houses, he just said..ewww they all take baths together??? 

More ruins

Just a cool tree that I liked
After the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, we headed off to lunch because the kids just COULDN'T walk any more without something in their bellies.  Liam's new thing "I'm tired of walking and it makes my belly hurt".  So we grabbed a bite to eat at a cafe by the park that had slow service even by European standards, but the food was decent and we were well nourished enough to hit the road again.

Some ruins that were uncovered when the city went to put a new duct down by the metro station.
Different angle

And one more angle...

Oh just one more...
So now that we all have full bellies it was on to the Olympic Stadium.  But first we went by what we thought was Parliment (which was conveniently not open for business on a Thurs - no wonder the economy is crap!) but turns out it was actually the Exhibition Center that was built in the late 1800s.  Our mistake! 
Zapion Exhibition & Congress Hall

Aidan pretending to be a soldier

A prettier view of the Exhibition Hall

At war with each other...shock I know!

The next part was my favorite stop on the trip and now in hindsight I wish we had gone in given the way the rest of our day went (which was not a bad thing but we figured we'd go in the Acropolis instead and in the end Liam fell asleep and we never made it in to the Acropolis).  It was the Olympic Stadium, the first build and over 2500 years old.  Seriously, that is just amazing to me.  And to see it from the outside (we had to stand behind the chain link area since we didn't pay to go in), the place looked immaculate and well maintained.  Well done Athens!!!  I have to say while there is graffiti everywhere here, everyone seems to have a lot of respect for their ancient artifacts and there is not a bit of graffiti on them no matter what kind of access people have to them. 

Known as the Panathinaiko Stadium, it was built back in 310 BC.  It was the site for the 1896 Olympic games which were considered to be the first modern games.  Reconstructed from the remains of the ancient Greek stadium, the Panathinaiko is the only major stadium in the world built entirely of white marble and it is just stunning!!  It was refurbished in the late 1800s to how you see it today.  It holds approximately 50,000 people.  I also liked that it is open ended so you can see right into it. 

View from the entrance

Aidan liked the idea that the first Olympics were held here and wanted me to email this picture to his best friend at home.

Close up of Aidan

Close up of the seating, all in marble

Different angle

And yet another angle

The kids at this point were pretty toasty and really didn't want to see any more ruins even though it was our only full day here in Athens.  We negotiated ice cream for one more trip, to the Acropolis.

But we didn't negotiate an ice cream this big Liam!!

Liam eating his ice cream but the reason I really took the picture is for the kid sitting to the right behind him - this kid was maybe just a year older than Liam and she was playing music for money.  This has been the one thing about Greece (we saw it on Hydra island today too) that has bothered me and I am sure this is not the only country to allow it, but the fact that these kids were panhandling and their parents were encouraging it (the dad was just a little down the way doing his own thing) was really bothersome to me.  In my mind I don't care how little money you have, it is the parents' job to provide, you do not send your children out begging.  Now that being said, I've never been in this situation before so maybe if I were I'd think differently...

This is as close as we got to the Acropolis
As we were looking for ice cream we saw one of those cheesey touristy trains that the kids love.  It was on the pedestrian street (and no we didn't drive down this one) that leads up a hill to the Acropolis.  We figured perhaps this would eliminate some walking for the kids and hoped it would bring us right to the entrance.  In fact, it did not but we rode it for a good hour and saw lots of great things that we may not have otherwise seen including lots of adorable cafes and shops that endeared me a little more to this city than I had originally been.  Liam, however, fell asleep on the train and there ended our day of touring Athens.

On the tourist train

Not sure what this monument was but the train stopped at it...

Guard outside the Presidential Palace, reminded me a bit of the Swiss Guard at the Vatican including interesting uniform with pom poms on their shoes.

Heading back to the hotel

It was funny how both kids woke up pretty quickly when we got back to the hotel so they could go swimming... I think they were plotting all along.  Next up...Hydra Island!


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