I had just finished my piece on the Great Sand Dunes in Southern Colorado when my friends showed up, and we moved on to mojitos, sitting poolside on the rooftop of the Hotel Melia in Athens, looking out across the tops of the buildings of the crowded city, the infamous Acropolis in view about a mile to the south.
As I mentioned in a recent Conde Nast article, everything you’ve heard about the city of Athens being packed tighter than a New York City subway car is absolutely true. I felt a connection with the pace and pulse of the city (not to mention the gyros), but boy, talk about a maze. Navigating those Greek-named streets was by no means a walk in the park, and while the city is surrounded by mountains and dotted with hills, it can be tough to get a grip on where you are due to the limited sight lines and endless infrastructure.
But, like New York, the rooftops of hotels and restaurants give you a whole new perspective on the chaos below, turning those closed-in, clustered feelings to ones of awe and appreciation. The Hotel Melia is located right downtown in the heart of the city, and I could see the columns of the Acropolis up upon the hill. We sat in the sun, stirring the drinks and hearing the sounds of the streets below. It was my first time in both Athens and Greece, having arrived earlier that morning after an overnight flight. Later that day the jetlag and laughing that comes along with it would set in, but right then I felt fine.
That afternoon, we left the hotel and took the subway to the Acropolis, which officially became the first place I’ve been that dates to the BC era, before the numbers flipped over and we started at zero (most of the major ruins at the Acropolis are from the fifth century BC). That, in itself, made it a special experience for me, and a pensive Wake walked upon the rubble, the same ground that those before us tended to so meticulously, constructing the buildings for both practical and mythological purposes.
While those steps were my first upon such ancient ground, I would visit a handful of other BC-era sites over the course of my seven-day journey throughout Greece and Turkey. A phrase I began to hear from others as the trip wore on was that “ruins are ruins,” a sign that they were feeling a bit underwhelmed, succumbing to a “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” mentality.
I can certainly relate to those feelings – I tend to get them when visiting churches – but that was sort of the cool thing about Athens, and what I hear is cool about places like Rome, the fact that visiting the ruins is not some all-day trip into the jungle. As you’ll notice in some of the photos below, ruins are dotted throughout the city, allowing you to pop in and pop out as you explore the city without the need to make a big deal of it. Aside from the aesthetically pleasing aspect this adds to Athens, it allows non-history buffs to be spoon fed over the course of a few days.
That all said, the Acropolis stands out due to its location on the hill, having once been the highest part of Athens (houses now dot the mountains that surround the city). Even if you agree with my friends in that ruins are ruins, the views of the city are more than enough motivation to visit, as you’ll see in the photos below. Aside from relentlessly chowing down on gyros and souvlaki, I must say that the aura of the Acropolis and the ensuing trek up the hill was the highlight of my short overnight stay.