Call it the Anthony Bourdain syndrome, but we’re always happy to pack as much adventure into a layover as we can.
On our way from Turkey to Rhodes, we flew into Athens with nine hours between flights. Mike had been to Athens many years ago with his parents, but it was the first time there for me and for the boys.
We checked our bags with Care4Bag luggage storage at the Athens airport and caught a cab for the Acropolis. It was a fixed daytime rate of €35 each way; if we’d had more time, we could’ve taken the bus for €5 per person or the Athens metro for €8 apiece. However, speed was our priority since we had limited time.
Our taxi driver was very friendly and happy to point out the sights along the 40-minute drive, including the Panathenaic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympic games in 1870.
When we arrived in the area of the Acropolis, he deposited us at the end of a pedestrian thoroughfare in Thission lined with cafes, sundries merchants, and souvenir stores. Thission used to be a place where few people went, especially tourists. However, more cafes and shops began to open after the roads that border the Acropolis became pedestrian-only, making the neighborhood an extension of Monastiraki, site of the famous Athens flea market.
With the clock ticking, we headed straight for the Acropolis.
Let us channel Gus Portokalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding for a moment. “The word acropolis comes from the Greek words ἄκρον (akron, ‘highest point, extremity’) and πόλις (polis, ‘city’)” (Wikipedia). The Acropolis in Athens is essentially a huge, rocky outcropping that is the site of many monuments, including the famous Parthenon as well as Propylaia, the entrance to the Acropolis; the Erechtheion, a temple to Athena and Poseidon; and the Temple of Athena Nike, goddess of victory in war and wisdom. It’s a massive site that would take several days to see in its entirety, so we focused on the Parthenon.
Much like other centuries-old monuments around the world (and most American highways), the Athens Parthenon is undergoing a seemingly endless series of maintenance work to maintain the original structure. But despite the scaffolding, it is still an awe-inspiring structure. As Wikipedia notes, “it is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art.”
While we could’ve easily spent days exploring the many amazing structures on the Acropolis, we didn’t have days to spend. And we were hungry.
We wound our way down the road and back into the surrounding neighborhood in search of our first Greek-food-in-Greece of the trip. Happily, we stumbled upon the Acropolis Restaurant Cafe.
We arrived at the restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, so we were some of the only patrons there. The owner graciously escorted us up the staircase to the roof garden with a view of the Acropolis, and we asked for his suggestions on what to order.
Mike and I chose the calamari, a Greek salad, and a chicken gyro to share. The boys had never had lamb before, and both ordered the grilled lamb souvlaki.
While they both enjoyed it tremendously, Ben was absolutely smitten. He cleaned his plate, and it was the first of many lamb dishes he would enjoy on this trip. In fact, any time he gets to pick a special occasion dish at home, he requests that I make something with lamb.
As much as we enjoyed the fantastic meal and the wonderful view of the Acropolis from the rooftop, we also enjoyed our conversation with the owner. He came to Athens many years prior from India, and, along with the rest of the country, he was struggling with the collapse of the Greek economy. He told us of families who grew incredible produce on their farms—oranges, tomatoes, olives, and more—who could no longer export their crops because of European Union restrictions. As a result, these incredible fruits and vegetables were going to waste, as was the land on which they were grown.
It was interesting to hear a firsthand account of the impact of political policies we’d only read about in the news, and it made us appreciate every delicious, freshly-grown bite of food we enjoyed while we were in Greece.
As we left the restaurant to return to the airport, he handed us postcards and asked us to come back and see him the next time we were in Athens. It’s something we dearly hope to do.