Olive Trees, Ivory, Gold: Athens, Greece, Part I

“Just living is not enough, one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower” ~ H.C. Andersen 
    Athens. I loved parts of it – the ruins, the Acropolis, the Agora, the flea markets in the Monastiri Market. I wasn’t too fond of other things – the salesmen in the Monastiriki Market, whom I found to be fairly rude and a little bit shifty. But maybe this was just my impression, I’m not sure. And I wasn’t there for long enough to truly get a sense of the place, so my impression does not hold much ground, I know. The food was good, but I thought that Istanbul and Florence far outshone Athens.
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   But it wouldn’t really be fair to weigh Athens against the other places, because the Acropolis alone would break the scale. It was, by far, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  The Parthenon standing tall on the hill, with the city of Athens spread below – it was so elegant and magnificent, and it brought back a wave of Nashville memories at the Parthenon in Centennial Park, and yet, there it was, in real life, and it was even more majestic than I could have imagined. Proud and stately, even in its injury and disrepair. And all around, olive trees and sandy blocks from the ruins. Yellow and white flowers, nestled in light green grass. It was like seeing Greek myths come faintly to life, in dusty and battered form, wind-swept.
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   I would go to Athens just to see the Acropolis. To see the sunset over Athens, through the columns of the Parthenon, watching the colours of the sun paint the white canvas of the buildings below. Pink, gold, and purple. I kept thinking back to a quote from The Goldfinch – “How strange to find that the present containing such a bright shard of the living past, damaged and eroded, but not destroyed.”
 What we did:
  • Climbed to the top of the Acropolis and walked all around it.
  • Explored the Agora
  • Got very overwhelmed at the Monastiriki Market
  • Ran around the Olympic Track: Panathenaic Statdium
  • Had tea and coffee at a covered sidewalk café by our Airbnb

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What we saw:
  • The most incredible sunset over Athens from the Acropolis: easily one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
  • The Parthenon
  • The Temple of Artemis
  • The Museum of the Acropolis
  • The Benaki Museum with the most incredible photo gallery featuring the Family Exhibit – made me cry.
  • All the ruins at the Agora.
  • Monastiriki Market: the biggest flea market I’ve ever seen with so many hidden gems. You could lost in those stalls, imagining all the stories that those antiques have seen.
  • All the beautiful yellow flowers at the Agora
  • The Temple of Zeus

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What we ate:
  • The Greek Salad to end all salads: it was revelation. Fresh tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, big blocks of feta, black olives sharp with flavour, and crisp strings of red onion, the whole thing drizzled with olive oil and herbs.
  • A Greek Salad inside of a Crepe. Yup. I couldn’t believe it existed either.
  • The most amazing little cookies and a pistachio tart from a place called Mr. Baker. All I can say is that he knew how to bake alright.
  • Kebabs and fried fish at a famous Greek restaurant (No.1).
  • Hummus on hummus on hummus
  • Semolina halva and Greek yogurt with honey
  • Mandarin oranges in the Monastiriki Square
  • A little Spinach pastry
  • Pasta with Sun-dried tomato and parmesan cheese at a place called something-mermaid (it was very Greek – recommended by a local!)
Snapshot No. 1 A Famous Restaurant Where We Recapped My Big Fat Greek Wedding
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   This restaurant was famous according to the travel guide we consulted. “Look around at the famous politicians and families that have dined here in the past,” quoted the travel guide. We looked. We didn’t recognize anybody. But, “that one on the right,” said my friend Raeven, “looks kind of like George Clooney, doesn’t he?” We all wondered for a bit if George Clooney was Greek. John Stamos. He was Greek. Who else did we know that was Greek? Well, the girl in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This was true. We all nodded. Remember that scene where the girl is introducing her boyfriend and says, “He’s a vegetarian. He doesn’t eat meat”? And the mother says, “He don’t eat no meat??!?!That’s ok. I make lamb!”
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   “Where’s my lamb?” wondered my friend Tahseen. “I’m hungry.” We looked at the table next to us that had just gotten their food, steaming and fragrant in front of them. Back to the politicians on the wall. “That one over there,” pointed Raeven. “Look at what he’s eating. It looks so good! I should have gotten that.” We all turned. A big sigh. It felt like we had been waiting for hours, but in reality, it probably was only 15 minutes or so. We were all just so hungry. But when the food came, it was amazing – hummus and tzatziki and kebab and of course, Greek Salad. We could see why it was famous.
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