Athens & Delphi
We caught the X95 bus (€5 one way, 40 mins) from the Athens International Airport to Syntagma square, a 5 min walk to Hotel Carolina (€120 per night for a room for 4 people, as it was the only one they had left!).
We woke the next morning and strolled just 10 mins to the Acropolis. We paid €12 for a ticket, at the entrance that included entry to the Parthenon, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s library and the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos (you have 3 days to use the tickets). We scaled the rocky steps up to the Parthenon (still being painstakingly restored), and admired the building, and the views of the Agora below. Next to the Parthenon lies the Erecthteion Temple with its famous Catylids (females goddesses acting as pillars on one façade and the small Temple of Nike Athena (the goddess of the city). On the route down we took in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a classic Greek theatre (originally with a roof), and the ruins of the Theatre of Dionysus.
Afterwards we went to the Museum of the Acropolis (€5). Outside we spotted a woman under the glass floor, restoring the ruins. The building is beautiful and modern, housing the real Catylids (the ones on the Acropolis are just copies) and best of all the top floor is a replica of the frieze and the pediments (including copies of the marbles they claim Lord Elgin ‘stole’). Upon leaving the museum we walked towards Olympian Zeus and stopped for some Souvaki (chunks of lamb cooked shish kebab style) as recommended by the Greek student sitting next to me on the plane. The Temple of Olympian Zeus consists of a number of vast Doric pillars standing in a sun-baked field in the centre of Athens.
Our final stop was the old, horseshoe-shaped Panatheniac (Olympic) Stadium, built for the first modern Olympics in 1896. Unusually, for a stadium, it is made out of stone. You can see most of the edifice without paying to enter, so that’s what we did, but the entry ticket does let you see all of the Olympic torches, which might be nice. On the way back to our hotel we strolled through the shady National Gardens to escape the heat. We also visited the Parliament building (Hellenic Parliament or Old Royal Palace) on our away back.
The day after we woke early for our day trip to Delphi. We chose public transport as the excursions were €80, and don’t give you much time there (apparently you can spend an hour on the coach picking people up from the hotels in Athens). We took the green metro line from Monastiraki Square (by the flea market) to Agois Nikolaos, then walked west for ten minutes to Liosion bus station where we caught the 10:30 to Delphi (€30 return with a short rest stop, the trip took around 2h 45min). Once there we walked down the road to the Delphi Museum/Cafe area and continued down the shady roadside path to the main entrance (5min walk) where we paid €9 each (which includes entrance to the lower sites as well).
The main site is on a beautiful, steep hillside with commanding views across the valley below. The trail takes you past many shrines and monuments up to the pillars of Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle was situated. She would inhale the gases coming from the ground then her words would be translated into premonitions for the dignitaries. Further uphill lies the theatre, providing a spectacular backdrop for the performances. We girded our loins and pressed up to the summit of the site to see the Ancient Athletics Stadium, well worth the effort! We descended carefully, past the ticket office and turned left, going further down the road and round the bend, and past another cafe, to the lower site (not well sign-posted). Positioned on the entry road to Delphi, on the side of the hill is the Sanctuary Athena Pronaia complex, including the famous round temple and the Tholos. Truly a picture postcard view!
Next, we visited the museum (€3) where we saw some wonderful column capitals and statues found on the site. There’s also a second smaller museum underneath covered by the same ticket. We then took the roadside path back up the hill to the fork in the road, at the start of the town, in front of the hotel, where the bus dropped us off, and where we would catch it later (no bus stop marked). The coach stopped at Kato Patissia metro station back in Athens, which was handy, so we alighted there.
Our final day in the Greek capital saw us visit the Ancient Agora. We visited the Agora museum with its long shady portico and enjoyed the classical sculptures and the water fountains. After a while we realised there was an upstairs too, which was bigger and contained numerous busts and models of the site at different stages of development. Facing the museum, across the ruin-strewn courtyard was the Temple of Hephaestus, the oldest Greek temple with its roof still attached, which had great views upwards towards the Acropolis. We left the Agora and perused the shops in the flea market. Next we collected our cases from the hotel and took the X95 back to the airport.
I’ll never forget Athens. What a special place!
Our four day, three night trip to Greece cost €632 for two people excluding flights. (Prices accurate as at May 2014).