IMG_0452The Parthenon (July 2006).

Although Athens was not the final destination of our two-week trip along the Mediterranean, it was the last place that I had visited and did not return to during my time living in Europe a decade later. In fact, I did not return to Greece in my adulthood, and so all I have of the country is limited to the low-quality photos and vague memories from my then-teenage brain. All the same, let’s give it a try!

The capital of Greece, Athens is like Rome of the East. Steeped in millennia of history and rich mythology, it is a popular tourist attraction to see all of the temples and to step back into time, even in the middle of a now-modernized city. As I had taken Greek mythology courses for school just the year prior, I was especially excited to see what Athens had in store for us.

Weather was overcast on the day we docked in the Port of Piraeus, located in the Greater Athens Metropolitan area and about 10 kilometers/6.2 miles from the city center. It was unusual to see such grey skies, considering we had spent the past week in France, Italy (and Santorini) in pristine, blue-sky weather. We hoped that the weather could clear up as the day went on, but unfortunately, it did not.

Our tour guide was a Greek woman who, I admit, was not the best guide. It wasn’t like she was mean or anything, but she was not very informative about the sites and their histories. It was so bad that she had to ask the tour driver to confirm what she had said was correct, or to provide extra detail about a specific landmark. Perhaps she was new to the job, but I will say that it made the Hungarian tour guide we had in Pompeii look like an intellectual.

I have vague memories of what we saw in Athens that day, but I know we definitely saw the Acropolis, the citadel which includes the famous Parthenon and the Erechtheum. Dating all the way back to 400 BCE, the Acropolis is in near-complete ruins today, with only a few of its structures surviving. It was a bit of an uphill walk to sites like the Parthenon, as well as rocky with all of the rubble on the path. Again, the grey clouds hung heavy in the air, with even the slightest bit of drizzle– all the same, it offered a unique, dramatic effect in the photos we took.

IMG_0466The Erechtheum.

IMG_0456Greek pride.

IMG_0448The back of the Herodion (ancient Greek theatre).

Aside from the Acropolis, I do not recall what else we did that day in Athens. Based on the photos taken, I believe we took a bus ride through the city center, passing by the Hellenic Parliament with the Greek guards in their garb at the entrance. And I believe we took a bird’s-eye view of the Acropolis from Mount Lycabettus, another of the city’s hills. It was perhaps only an afternoon in town before we returned to our ship and left for Dubrovnik.

IMG_0445Greek guard.

IMG_0467View of the city from above.

Sadly, I found Athens to be a disappointment. It was due to several factors, including drab weather, a not-so-informative tour guide, and the overall atmosphere of the city center. The Acropolis was lovely, but I found driving through the actual center of Athens to be rather run-down and dirty, at least back in 2006 when I went. Perhaps it has improved since then, but from all of these reasons, they make me reluctant to head back anytime soon.

That is to say, I am not completely writing off Greece for a return visit. In fact, I am willing to give it a second chance. After all, I enjoyed Santorini, and I would love to spend more time checking out the other islands in the country. As for Athens, I would return for convenience, as means of flying in and spending a night there before heading to the Greek islands. Maybe Athens will redeem itself in my eyes a second-time around, and only time will tell when I can go back.

This concludes the last of my throwback Mediterranean trip from 2006. It is unbelievable that it has been 15 years since then, and how much I have come in travel since then. Those two weeks were a great introduction to Europe, and it wouldn’t be until 2012 that I would return to check out the Scandinavian countries and 2015 when I would move abroad to France and end up living there for four years. I suppose you could call this the start of my “European love affair,” but in any case, it was a fun summer filled with plenty of sun, culture, history, and quality time with my family. Couldn’t have traded it for anything else, honestly.

Thank you for reading this series, and I promise more adventures to come soon! πŸ™‚

— Rebecca

32 thoughts on “Destination: Athens, Greece

  1. So unfortunate the tour guide was not very informative. This is the reason we do not prefer organized tours, and rather like to roam by ourselves, but in this case we need to do our own “homework”😊 I wish you sunny skies when you will visit next time😊
    Have a great afternoon!
    Christie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! I tend to do self-guided tours and look up the general background of a place before I head there. And if the site has any information displayed, I take a look at them, too. Organized tours can be more detailed, however, in their guidance…but only if the guide knows what they’re doing!

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  2. I’ve been to Athens several times, but the last time was over forty years ago with our then-small children. Unfortunately there was a heat wave on, which limited what we could do. But one really nice thing was that in the evening (when it was a bit cooler) there was a sound-and-light show where we all sat on some hill where we could see the Acropolis, which had lighting effects that changed to match the music and sound effects. I think there were also explanations in several languages. The show was done by French company which had produced similar shows in various parts of France.

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    1. That sounds like a magical experience! The French really know how to put on a light show, even out of country. To display it on such an iconic monument like the Acropolis was the perfect opportunity at an opportune time. Glad you and your family had a memorable experience in Athens. 😊

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  3. I’ve never been to Athens but always wanted to visit as this ancient Greek metropolis has a lot going for it, especially the Mediterranean climate. I am sorry to hear that you found it disappointing, I would think that after Greece spruced up a lot of Athens, including building a modern metro system for the 2004 Olympics it would be a nice place to explore. I think some of the reputations is because people expect all of Greece to look like Santorini or some other whitewashed island. It’s a major city, with traffic and big buildings and no sea view or beach. And like all major cities, there are going to be areas that are not taken care of as well as others, but then again, I have to see it for myself. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day, Rebecca πŸ™‚ Aiva xxx

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    1. That’s a fair assessment. Athens isn’t your island paradise like Santorini or Crete, but it still hosts plenty of history worth checking out. It doesn’t have the village charm as the islands, but its large metropolis makes for a solid hub to base one’s Greek travels from. Hope you can visit someday; thanks for stopping by, Aiva!

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  4. Must say, I’m really impressive by how well you remember your time in Greece! I visited Greece myself a few years ago – an island called Kos – and all I am able to remember is the large amount of stray dogs. Great post as always!

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    1. Honestly, I only remember perhaps 40% of my time there, because it was so long ago…I did my best piecing together the time there through my vague memories and low-quality photos saved since then. It’s not perfect, but I’m glad it was a cohesive read for you!

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  5. A good tour guide is so important. Some are like overflowing rivers, telling stories I’ve never heard, which I love. It would be sad to have one that wasn’t up to the task the one time you’d see Athens. The architecture is amazing in your photos.

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    1. Absolutely! Even though I was young, I still could tell that the tour guide wasn’t good. Even if a tour guide didn’t like telling long-winded stories, at least providing accurate facts would be satisfactory. Unfortunately, our guide was neither, which made for a lackluster visit. The architecture did redeem the trip, though, as you mentioned!

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  6. The ruins seem beautiful even with the cloudy skies! But I understand gloomy weather isn’t really ideal when you’re on a Mediterranean vacation. Another bummer about that guide! I’m used to guided tours because of studying abroad in Paris, but I never think to book guided tours for vacations (except for ones at wineries haha).

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    1. The guided tour of Athens was part of our cruise package, and since we wouldn’t be staying long in the port, we booked for convenience to get around the city easily and to get its highlights. The overcast day was a unfortunate surprise, especially after over a week of sunshine along the Mediterranean, but at least I did visit such a historic site in Greece! Thanks for reading along, Camden. πŸ™‚

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  7. A lovely guide – I fell in love with Athens having visited in January 2019 just before the pandemic and seeing it without all the tourists. It’s so full of history and we easily spent a week there. Perhaps one day you’ll return to Greece again πŸ™‚

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    1. It’s great that you enjoyed Athens during your stay there. My experience wasn’t as good as yours, but perhaps it requires spending a few days, rather than just an afternoon, to really give it a chance. Maybe I’ll return!

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    1. Having a knowledgeable tour guide makes a huge difference in the experience of a city. I’m willing to give Athens another chance, but time will tell when I can return!

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    1. I agree with your husband! I was the same way with Paris: I didn’t like it at first, but it eventually grew on me with multiple trips back. Same went for Madrid and Toulouse. So we’ll have to see with Athens someday!

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  8. So sorry for your experience because mine was fantastic. The market places, street foods, not just the sights. We did a lot ourselves as Athens is really easy to get around. Hope you get another chance.

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    1. I think exploring Athens on one’s own would make a difference in enjoying the experience more. Again, I’m open to giving Athens another chance, but we’ll have to see when…

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  9. I spent several days in Athens and more than the visit of the big sites, I keep a fond memory of the random walks in the not so touristy areas. At least you have a first idea of the city, but as you say, Athens is worth more than a guided tour by a bad guide.

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  10. Ah Athens, I enjoyed reading this post very much. Although I have been too Athens, I look back on it as a missed opportunity, as I came literally just to see a football match between England and Greece. Then promptly left again with the agency that arranged everything. Your post reminds me that one day I should go and explore at length. Cheers!

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