Flying into Athens, we moved through the busy airport to the train information desk. An English speaking attendant at the counter provided us with info for the train which landed us within a block of our hotel in central Athens. Following a lunch of chicken souflaki (kabobs) with tzasaki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic) at a popular restaurant near the hotel, we headed back to the train for a trip to the Acropolis and the old Plaka district.
Reaching the Acropolis by late afternoon, waiting for the midday cruise ship and bus tour crowds to depart, we found it was still a little crowded, but nothing like the 6000 or so cruise passengers that can converge during midday. Acropolis (high city), in the center of Athens, has been an important part of the city's history since 1400 BC, when the area was ruled by the Mycenaeans. In 480 BC when Persians attacked the city, all temples atop Acropolis were destroyed, but Athenians won the war and the Persians were driven out of Greece. Between 450 and 400 BC, Athenians had built the Parthenon and 3 other major monuments.
Climbing Acropolis hill can be a bit of a challenge, but is well worth the trip. (An elevator is available for wheelchair bound visitors.) Parthenon, the temple to Athena, has been under renovations since 1984, so scaffolding covers most of the west side of the structure, and it is obviously going to take a lot longer as they meticulously renovate the building. The intent is not to restore it to the original condition, but to stabilize it and repair damage of past renovations. The original building was completed in 10 years.
With temperatures soaring in the unseasonably high 90's, we moved on from Acropolis, to the oldest neighborhood in Athens, the Plaka. This is primarily a pedestrian area filled with jewelry stores, tourist shops and restaurants, though we did have a few motorcycles whiz by as we were wandering around. The tourist shops sell t-shirts, hats and variety of Greek souvenirs, such as miniature Parthenon's. Ouzo is found in numerous shops, and seems to be on the menu at any restaurant. Every menu we saw was in English, as well as Greek, and frequently, there were also pictures available to help explain the choices further. Our priority now was a gelato, to help us cool down, and we found a couple of places at the foot of the hill to meet that need.
With hotel reservations in Delphi the following day, we took a taxi to the central bus station in Athens to buy tickets (60 euros for both of us-round trip) and depart for the 3-hour trip. Trains don't run to Delphi, and we didn't want to take a one day bus tours, leaving Athens in the morning and returning later in the afternoon. Arriving at our destination, the Delphi bus station, we found the restaurant that doubles as the station also owns the hotel where we were staying. We were very grateful as they loaded our luggage into a car, and took us the final half mile of our journey up the steep hill.
Delphi and the archaeological site are located along the side Mount Parnassus. This vantage point gave us a gorgeous view of the Corinthian Gulf and the valley surrounding it from our hotel room. Once again, we received a welcome glass of wine from the hotel which we enjoyed on our balcony. The hospitality of the hoteliers in this country has been memorable.
Waiting until around 5 PM, we wandered back down the hill, through the town, to the archaeological site and museum. During the summer, the facilities are open until 8 PM, so that gave us plenty of time to explore. Visiting so late in the day, there were only a handful of other visitors. By visiting the museum first, we had a better understanding of the extensive site that had existed here 3500 years ago. Ancient Delphi was a sanctuary built around the Temple of Apollo, not a city. Starting around 1400 BC, legends said that Zeus had released two eagles from opposite ends of the world, and they had returned to this point, indicating that this was the center of the Earth.
For hundreds of years, people from all walks of live, would come to consult the oracles at the Temple. Throughout the centuries monuments and treasures accumulated at the destination, as visitors thanked Apollo for the wisdom dispensed by the oracles. This continued until 394 AD, when Christians closed down the temple. We didn't walk away with any prophecies, but the scale of what had existed here is inspiring. The 700-feet change in elevation from the entrance to the stadium, where the Pythian games were held, requires some energy, but no skill. There are steps, and in some places handrails, to help you reach the top.
The next day, we boarded the bus back toward Athens but departed the bus before the bus station, so we could board a train to Piraeus, the main port for Athens. Next destination is Santorini, via ferry.