No matter what damage modern politics and economics inflicts on it, Greece always has this: The icons of civilization, the foundation of culture, and a perpetual hold on western consciousness.
I check into my hotel in Athens at 5 pm for a one-night stay and head directly to the landmark that has gripped my imagination since I heard the tales in junior high school of Mount Olympus and the gods and heroes who were part of its mythology. The Acropolis of Athens sits 490 feet (150 metres) above the capital of Greece on a flat surface of rock and sandstone. It has been a meeting place for humans — including some of the most notable names in history — for no less than 3,000 years.
To contemplate the enormity of its importance while standing in clear aim of the sun as you overlook Athens is one of the great travel experiences on the planet. The city of white-washed buildings spreads into the Aegean Sea and up against small mountains, dried from heat, populated with spiny olive and fig trees, and adorned with meandering streets that invite you to explore.
The Acropolis’s most famous feature, the Parthenon of Athena, was built around 450 BCE (before common era) on the orders of Pericles, the politician known as the father of democracy. An engineering marvel, it remains the most important monument of ancient Greece, although it is under constant repair. A smaller temple dedicated to Athena, built to commemorate a victory over Persia, neighbors the Parthenon. It has been rebuilt twice, which explains its sturdiness compared to other structures on the citadel. An amphitheatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, below the mount still holds performances of classical music.
One of the most compelling facts you will learn when you visit Greece is how its people recognize the visceral importance of their ancient monuments. During a war with the Turks in the 1820s, a Greek general learned his enemy was dismantling some of the treasures on the Acropolis in order to secure the bronze, copper, and other metals within the artifacts and structures that had occupied the hilltop since the earliest days of Greece. Having been informed about the desecration of the nation’s cultural riches, the general ordered his troops to send the Turks what they wanted. So a shipment of metal was delivered to them without any kind of a Trojan horse, just a gesture with a plea to do no harm to the Acropolis, whose existence Greeks intend to keep immortal.
Your own Greek odyssey should start or end here, at this home of monuments, legends and genius that has impacted each of us in ways we may not realize. Mine began at the Acropolis before I voyaged with Celestyal Cruises on a four-night sailing aboard its Olympia cruise ship. An activity-filled journey, the cruise provided the opportunity to visit five of Greece’s most significant islands in the Mediterranean, plus Ephesus, a historic site in Turkey that is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Check back with VacayNetwork.com for articles on those destinations and more coverage of Greece.
Where to Stay in Athens
The InterContinental Athenaeum Athens is a large, well-appointed hotel with rooms that face the Acropolis. It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the Acropolis and is a shorter distance to the Kolonaki neighborhood, known for its shops, galleries, and bustling restaurant scene. Room sizes range from 375-485 square feet. Address: Syngrou Avenue 89-93, Athens. Room Rates: A weekend night in the spring starts at 130 euro (about $150 USD), according to the hotel’s website.
Where to Dine Near the Parthenon
Hytra serves modern Greek cuisine on the sixth-floor terrace of the Onassis Cultural Centre. You’ll have a clear view of the Parthenon while you dine at night breathing the Mediterranean air and glimpsing the glitter of stars. It is an amazing setting and the food is also exceptional. A Michelin-starred restaurant, Hytra serves cuisine focused on fish, fruit, and vegetables of the nation. The chilled cucumber soup (8.50 euro; $10) is a made memorable with a touch of spearmint, and sea bass (24.50 euro; $29) is cooked delicately, accompanied with flavorful orzo. Address: Syngrou Avenue 107, Athens. Menu Price Range: 18-24.50 euro for main entrees ($21-$29). Website: hytra.gr
More About Celestyal Cruises
Sailings and Cost: The all-inclusive four-day Iconic Aegean cruise operates from March to October. Rates start at $740 per person for 2018 sailings. The Iconic Aegean is ideal for passengers looking to see the highlights of the Greek Islands and to decide which of them you’d like to base a longer stay. Celestyal offers additional cruises of the Greek Isles as well as Cuba. Website: americas.celestyalcruises.com/en
Visiting the Acropolis
Entry: 20 euro ($23.50). Be sure to also visit the Acropolis Museum, home to artifacts found on archaeological digs of the Acropolis. (entry is 5 euro; $6). It is at the foot of the park leading to the steps up to the Acropolis.
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