Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Athens, Greece

So my 9.5-hour train ride from Skopje to Thessaloniki might not have been so bad after all. The 6.5-hour overnight train I took from Thessaloniki to Athens had to have been the most memorable thus far. First of all, the ticket agent neglected to inform me the option of making a seat reservation. Since I didn’t have a seat, I spent the first hour “playing musical chairs”. After a few stops, the train was packed and I was left without a seat. Thus, I proceeded to the end of the dining car, which had some floor space. Unfortunately, there were people there so I was hunched up in a corner. This experience made me the appreciate the leg room that we get in coach class on U.S. airlines! In fact, the train was so full that people were sitting or standing on every available floor space. I was thinking that if they let any more people into the train, they would be have no choice but to sit on the roof or hang out of the train doors, a scene that is quite common (or maybe not so) in India. And to top it off, it was freezing in this train! Well, at least this experience will prepare me for the trains in Asia!

The best part of taking an overnight train to Athens is that one arrives at 5:30am. This means that there is ample time to stroll around Plaka, the old town without anyone around. It also meant that I could be one of the first to enter the Acropolis at 8am (when it opens) and not have to deal with crowds. I did exactly that.

For me the most impressive part of the Acropolis was not the Parthenon, which has been damaged over the years, or any of the other temples and gates. My favorite part was the commanding view of Athens. On top of the Acropolis, I could see numerous white buildings, the Saronic Gulf, hills and the Temple of Olympian Zeus..

Another place with an even better view is Lycabettus Hill, the tallest point in Athens. From there, I could spot the Parthenon and Acropolis, towering over the city center. Furthermore, I had a birds-eye view of the old Olympic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympics back in 1896.

I also had the opportunity to visit two world-class museums--the New Acropolis Museum and the National Archeological Museum. The New Acropolis Museum recently opened its doors, on June 21st. The modern architecture of the building is impressive, with glass floors where one can view ruins underneath. I especially enjoyed the exhibit on the Parthenon. The National Archeological Museum provided a comprehensive of Greece from the Neolithic to Classical period. There was everything, from pottery, to statues to bronze ware. The museum even contained an exhibit on Egypt.

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