Our last day in Greece seemed to come around fast! While each day as we were living it seemed full of so much, by the time we knew we were about to leave, it seemed in retrospect to have all gone by so quickly. Isn’t that always the way? Well, we had to make the most of it, and we had grand plans.
Every day at breakfast we’d been looking out at Mount Lycabettus in the no-so-far-off distance and thinking about hiking to the top. Remember this view from day one?
That big peak is Lycabettus. Does it look like a daunting hike? I don’t even know anymore. Looking at this photo, it does look daunting. But feeling as good as I felt after walking around all of Athens every day, I thought it was surely a doable adventure. CW really wanted to get up there as well, but was convinced we were signing up for a grueling mission. Nonetheless, we were in.
Our approach to the mountain* started in the National Gardens just outside our hotel’s front door. We then had to wind our way through some neighborhood streets, climbing higher and higher on sidewalks that turned into staircases, until we reached the base and the hiking trail that begins there.
*Technically a hill at only 908 feet, but if it’s called “Mount Lycabettus,” I shall be referring to it as a mountain from here on out. That is that.
The trail was rather easy going — walkable/runnable, but still steep even taking into account the switchbacks. There were a lot of interesting plants to see, including these trees imported directly from Dr. Seuss.
The views of the city were great throughout the climb, but the higher we got, the less inclined I was to venture out onto overlooks like the one below. I just hung back and took a photo of my husband taking his photo. That’s fine with me.
Between this overlook with the bench and the actual top of Mount Lycabettus, we had to climb a long set of steep marble stairs that ended at the front of the Chapel of St. George, which sits atop the mountain (along with an open-air theater and a restaurant — it was too early for lunch or I would have really wanted to eat there. THE VIEW, DEAR DOG, THE VIEW.)
We took our time at the top, taking photos, visiting the chapel and lighting a couple of candles, and just generally being happy to have made it to the top of the highest point in Athens with minimal trouble.
All in all, the hike to the top, staring from our hotel, took maybe an hour. I have a rotten sense of time, but it definitely couldn’t have been more than 90 minutes. Significantly less daunting than you would think, especially for two fit adults. There is also a funicular rail that will take visitors halfway up (and then they still must climb the marble stairs), but we wanted none of that. Getting to the top by our own steam was half the thrill.
A cappuccino freddo reward was absolutely in order. I just loved this café’s little blue table, and would like one of these for my own patio. See also: the bottle for table water.
CW and I also had some other business we needed to attend to: we’d both been seeing things around town we kind of wanted to buy, but had been shopping around for the best ones, and today was the day to pull the trigger. I bought myself a pair of handmade sandals (I am wearing them today and I love them) and CW chose a beautiful mortar and pestle set made from olive wood. Shopping missions: complete.
We also had some unfinished business with the Ancient [Greek] Agora. We’d tried to visit it a couple of days prior, but it turned out to be much larger than we expected and we didn’t have the time to do it justice, so today was our day to go back for more. We had a really nice time strolling around the grounds. checking out the remains of all kinds of ancient structures, and visiting the Temple of Hephaestus, which you can see in the background of the photo below:
[Don’t worry; I am going to find that bra and I am going to burn it with fire, because no, bra, this behavior is UNACCEPTABLE. Also, yes, I am a giant.]
Okay, never mind that. Here’s a closer look at the Temple of Hephaestus:
Are you tired of looking at my photos of ancient Greek temples and columns yet? Don’t worry, we’ll be moving on to Italy soon, where there will be…other types of ancient architecture.
The Agora’s museum — part traditional museum with ancient pottery and other items behind glass, and part open-air sculpture museum — beckoned us as well. There were a lot of Grecian Urns (putting in my mind Keats’ ode, of course).
This one was the greatest discovery, however:
Check it out. It’s an ancient wine cooler that may depict a scene from the Iliad, so it’s already fairly awesome. It would be placed in the cold sea, and the hole in the middle is actually a tube going straight through, allowing cold water to pass through the center and cool the wine more quickly. Greeks know how it’s done. That wine is staying cold. In modern times, however, they can simply serve your already-chilled wine with a side of ice cubes, as somewhat shown in this photo taken in a café on Hydra — Hydra, I love you forever. Call me.
The open air museum was a lovely space, and full of interesting sculptures. Below, there’s the Winged Nike (a favorite), a bust of Nemesis, and, finally!, a statue of Athena.
The second level of the open air museum has a pretty view out to the nearby hillsides of the city, and in this photo below you can see a certain handsome photographer taking advantage of the moment.
Other handsome guys taking advantage of the open-air museum included this awesome dog. Look at him, just stone-cold chillin’ next to these statues on the ground floor, like he owns the place.
Maybe he does.
As it was nearing time for lunch, it also seemed that a storm was approaching. We’d had good luck with the weather so far in Greece, only seeing a little light rain while we were safely inside the boat the day before. Today, we also managed to escape getting wet by taking an indoor table next to an open window in the comfortable Xenios Zeus restaurant high on the Acropolis hill. We’d walked by this place a couple of times and liked both the charming garden seating area and the menu, so we finally came back to try it.
(And yes, basically we started our day by climbing one mountain (fine, “mountain”) and then went to an entirely different high point in the city for lunch. Athens is a hilly place, but when you’re there and you’re walking it, it doesn’t seem bad at all and the payoff is always worth it.)
We were safe from the rain but got to enjoy all the fresh herbs, flowers, and vines in the garden right outside our breezy open window. CW and I decided to try to order something light for lunch — just salad and a starter or two to share — so we could have a bigger dinner later. Well. Our light lunch turned into quite the feast.
There was Greek salad (no bullshit lettuce up in there — just the good stuff), dolmas, olives and peppers, grilled bread with olive oil, and this hummus-like spread that was made with salmon roe. I don’t know how to explain that last one but it was good. We lingered over the meal and enjoyed every bit of it, feeling stuffed to the gills by the end. Then, our waiter brought us each a slice of orange cake on the house, so how could we say no? It was soaked in some kind of orange syrup, which sounds a bit dodgy but tasted great.
Xenios Zeus. Recommended.
The restaurant happens to be right near the little area I want to call the Secret Alleyways, full of narrow walkways, twists and turns, and charming little white-painted houses. We took the opportunity to walk through them one last time while we were in Athens, with me fantasizing all the while about how we could possibly manage to move into one of the hidden houses.
This tiny alleyway at the end of which sits a cat, as if artfully posed among these flower petals? This is the perfect example of things I loved about Athens. Not only am I walking down what feels like a charming secret passageway from a fairytale, just wide enough for one person to fit through, but also at the turn is this little scene that just couldn’t be any more perfect. At some point we started to think the cats and dogs of Athens were somehow descended from the ancient gods and goddesses. Perhaps this kitty was sending me some kind of message.
Sigh. We went home via the pâtisserie and picked up one last bottle of wine, and had a little siesta before dinner.
In keeping with the theme of unfinished business, there was one thing we had not yet tried in Greece that we both had really wanted to: ouzo.
Mission accomplished! I was surprised to learn that it’s served like Pernod or Absinthe, over ice/with water added, and cloudy. I think the times I’d seen ouzo previously (in the US), I had seen it served as a simple shot (and, because it wasn’t mixed with ice/water, it was clear, like vodka). So this was a new experience. I’ve historically avoided licorice-tasting drinks, but what I’ve come to realize in recent years is that I only really dislike black licorice itself and Jägermeister. Other anise-flavored drinks are A-OK in my book, so I enjoyed the ouzo very much.
Afterward, we went to another rooftop restaurant in the area and had a lovely last dinner while enjoying the nighttime view.
After dinner, a final item of unfinished business: visiting our own hotel’s rooftop bar after dark. We’d first gone up there in the afternoon on day one, just to look. Then, we’d eaten breakfast up there every single morning of the trip. This night, we wanted to be up on the roof of the Royal Olympic, seeing the city at night, with the Acropolis all illuminated and so on. It was beautiful.
Good night, Athens!
The next morning, we would be on our way to Rome, so stay tuned for that!
You can click on any of these photos to view it in larger sizes on flickr, and the entire set from day five in Greece is here. If you missed any of the other day-by-day recaps, you can also check out days one,two, three, and four.