Second Time is the Charm in Ancient Athens!

Second Time is the Charm in Ancient Athens!

I had incredibly low expectations for my two nights in Athens.

I first visited this Grecian capital back in March 2003 as part of a 10-day Art & History tour with my high school. I did not love it. Far from it. In fact, I have spent the last decade telling people that it is my least favourite city in Europe. Ouch!

So when I decided to return to Greece my heart was set on the islands. But, since Athens still made the most logical starting point, I relented to the wishes of my travel companions and spent a full day touring many of the same famous sites that failed to wow me the first time. And… what do you know. Athens was NOTHING like I remembered it.

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This is not the first time that a city has improved upon its initial impressions. Barcelona, Rome, and Portland are just a few names that won me over on the SECOND visit and now are some of my favourite cities ever! This is why I absolutely NEVER SAY NEVER. I am so glad I was willing to go back to all of these places because the memories I made the second time around are worth every bit of letdown on the first run through.

So, what changed my mind about Athens? Better weather. Better company. Low Expectations. More Freedom. Open Mind.

But enough preamble… here’s what we got into!

The Acropolis

The most important site in Athens is without-a-doubt The Acropolis – an ancient citadel perched high on a rocky outcrop above the city. It contains the remains of several ancient buildings, most famously the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena (patron and namesake of Athens).

Knowing this was a must-see and with only a short stay in the city, we opted to stay in a very well-located apartment just minutes away. This made our early start time much more manageable. We were waiting at the ticket entrance before it opened at 8:00am to beat the crowds and I’m so glad that we did. It wasn’t difficult to get photos and we had plenty of time to soak of the panoramic city views. We even had time to climb neighbouring Mars Hill sans spectators.

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Parliament Buildings – Changing of the Guard

Every Sunday at 11:00am there is an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Presidential Mansion in Syntagma Square. And what do you know… our one day in Athens just so happened to be on a Sunday. I didn’t even plan that! So we made sure to get there early to nab a spot on the street and gleefully watched the impressive procession of synchronized guardsmen in all their skirted, pom pom tossing glory. I think I enjoyed it even more than the UK variety at Buckingham Palace.

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The Temple of Olympian Zeus

Not too far down the road we came across yet another ancient ruin. This time the Temple of Zeus! The entrance fee was included in our Acropolis ticket and we only stayed long enough to marvel at the sheer size of it. How did people build these monstrosities 2500 years ago?

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Panathenaic Stadium

Okay – this one I did remember and was definitely excited to revisit. It probably has to do with my Olympic obsession but seriously, how could you not be impressed by a 50,000 seat stadium built entirely out of MARBLE! The site of the very first modern Olympic games in 1896 even dates back to ancient times. Mindy and I couldn’t help getting cheesy with a sporty photo shoot.

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The Acropolis Museum

This new museum opened to the public back in 2009 to house the artifacts found on the Acropolis. It was even built overtop of an archaeological site with glass walkways allowing you to view the ruins below – how cool! I loved the juxtaposition of this modern building amidst the surrounding ancient architecture. I’m only a casual fan of museums but it was a nice air-conditioned break from the summer heat and an interesting walk through. Plus it has miniatures! I’m such a sucker for those.

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The Ancient Agora

The Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural centre, and the seat of justice. This one also happens to be the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora. Honestly, by the time we got here I was a bit tuckered out from our full day of sightseeing. Even though it was approaching golden hour (my favourite time of day for photos!) I couldn’t muster up a lot of energy. But the grounds are extensive and beautifully nestled in below the Acropolis. It’s definitely worth a visit!

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So by the end of my two nights in Athens, I was actually wishing I had a couple more. I could have happily dined and strolled in the Plaka neighbourhood for another evening, soaking up the European café culture that I have become so insanely fond of. But, alas, the Greek Islands were calling and I didn’t want to miss one second of my time in the Cyclades… not even Zeus could stop me.

Next up: Santorini at last!!!

Melting in Exotic Cartagena

Cartagena is officially one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I cannot wait for Laura to develop these photos so that I can blow them up on canvas and re-decorate my entire house. This morning we slept in, covered our poor sunburnt bodies as best we could, and headed out to the old part of the city. What we discovered were the most breathtaking colonial buildings, painted in all the colours of the rainbow.

Old Town

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We took our time wandering down the quaint little streets,occasionally stopping in the little shops to get a break from the beating sun. Laura has a minor case of heat stroke but she was a trooper and lugged that heavy camera bag around on her scorched shoulders for hours. We stumbled upon lovely churches and squares and walked along the outer wall of the city. The views were fantastic.

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We visited the museum of Modern Art, although we will both admit that the air conditioning was more appealing than the art. We decided to plunk ourselves down on a bench for a solid 45 minutes; 2000 pesos is a small price to pay for shade, fans, and solitude. Don’t get me wrong… I still love my hot climates but I also know my limits. This humidity takes some getting used to.

The grand finale of our day was a trip to the  Castillo de San Felipe. We enjoyed incredible vistas as per usual, and found several places to beat the heat. Our new favourite pastime is also taking photos for other tourists. It´s a nice gesture and we usually get a photo out of the deal as well. Plus, we have become a little stockerish when it comes to white people. We are such a minority that we feel  a strange kinship to anyone that shares our pasty complexion. Ah… the ties that bind.

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Castello de San Felipe

By around two o’clock we needed to get out of the sun and find some food so we headed back to the hotel. I literally felt like my skin was melting off. Here, we shower frequently and in cold water. I have never enjoyed a shower so much as in Cartagena. We plan to hit the streets again tonight when the sun goes down for our last evening in Colombia. We have both come to love this country and its people. I don’t say this often (because there are so many countries I have yet to explore) but I will definitely be returning to Colombia. I don’t think I could leave if I thought this was goodbye for good.

That’s all for now… next stop: Ecuador!