Athens – the cradle of democracy

Before we continue with our story: I found a whole series of photos of the abandoned hotel “Saladi”, which you can view at the bottom of the post about Nafplio and Monemvasia.

It was absolutely not on our schedule – the loyal reader knows by now that we don’t visit big cities too often – but we were forced to drive to Athens. There we were able to get a temporary passport for Nikki at the Belgian embassy.

14/12/2023 – On our way to Athens while still stopping at a dormant volcano. A winding track took us to a car park, but as the sections of road were washed away and we met Nigel there and were afraid to drive his 3.5 ton, we parked in the bushes. We were very wary, because of this terrible story that dates back to September 2022. Fortunately, we did not encounter a dog, only a couple of Dutch people. The volcanic area was disappointing, and without any signage we were back at the camper after half an hour. Further on we haven’t even stopped at a cliff with a nice view of another shipwreck. Kai and Amber also came across there, they closed Athens on the left and drove in the direction of Delphi. We agreed to meet again later.

Volcanic rift
Close-up of the volcanic rock

To avoid the terrible traffic of the capital as much as possible, we found a bus parking, where you can also park a camper for € 20 per night. There is also electricity for those who want it, toilets and a shower. 3 km from the center also ideally located to explore the city on foot. So we tried to make the best of it.

After a not so quiet night, because in such a bus parking it is a constant coming and going of buses, we headed towards the center of Athens. Outside of the Panthenon, we didn’t really know what to expect from Athens… Not much, as it turned out. In general it is a bad smelling city with apartment blocks and loud traffic. Between the buildings you can still find remains and ruins from ancient times.

But, of course we have been in Greece for a while, so these were certainly not our first ruins. The headliner of Athens is the Panthenon, but we decided to skip this: We wanted to see as much of the ‘real’ city as possible before 3 pm that day, collect the passport and then get out of the busy ‘suburbs’ of Athens as quickly as possible. It seems that 50% of all Greeks live in Athens. And actually that is not far off, if you know that there are about 10.5 million Greeks and Athens has about 4 million inhabitants. Now, although we are used to living in a city, we had been used to the peace and quiet of nature and the countryside for several months. So we quickly became horrified in the narrow, smelly streets of Athens.

While waiting for our appointment at the embassy, we visited a few more parks and an impressive building: the Panathenian Stadium. Fans of the Olympic Games will certainly know this stadium. It is the place where, in 1896, the first modern Olympic Games took place. But, of course, the history of this special stadium starts much earlier than that.

The Panathenian Stadium

Embedded in a natural hollow between two hills in Athens, this stadium was originally built in the 4th century BC. for the Panathenaic Games, a religious and athletic festival in honor of the goddess Athena. At that time the stadium was made of wood. However, it was in 144 AD. completely renovated by the wealthy philanthropist Herodes Atticus, who had it built entirely of marble. And not just any marble, but enough to accommodate as many as 50,000 spectators. An impressive number, even by today’s standards. When you stand in front of it, you can really grasp the size of this stadium. Quite (again) a fine piece of architecture for that time.

After the demise of the ancient Greek civilization, the stadium fell into disrepair, was forgotten and eventually buried under the earth. Fast forward to the 19th century, when the idea of revival of the Olympics began to bubble. The Panathenian Stadium was excavated and restored, and in 1896 it became the pride of Athens and the whole world when it hosted the first modern Olympic Games.

Today the stadium, also known as the Kallimarmaro (which literally means ‘beautiful marble’), remains a jewel of ancient and modern Greece. It is the only arena in the world built entirely of marble. And it is still in use for various events and ceremonies.

To the embassy

After walking around for about three hours in the center of Athens, we went to the Belgian embassy. There we were helped at the counter, so unfortunately we were not able to see the inside. A friendly, perfectly Dutch-speaking Greek made a provisional passport for Nikki, and after making a written statement for the consul, we were able to leave there with valid identity papers. We walked back to the bus parking lot, where I wanted to take a quick shower to rinse off the accumulated sweat. Unfortunately we made a distasteful discovery there, some disgusting person had relieved himself in the shower. The equally disgraced manageress got to work removing the brown artwork that had been left behind and after a very quick shower we drove back into heavy traffic, in the direction of Delphi, and our traveling companions, Kai and Amber.

Is Athens a visit where with the camper? Depends, if you want to see the Panthenon and you like a bustling city, it’s definitely worth a stop. But to be honest, we think that Greece is littered with archaeological sites anyway, and we prefer untouched nature and quiet villages.

Quieter places

On instructions from Kai and Amber, we ended up in a godforsaken hole under the name of Agios Nikolaos, of which there are hundreds of villages with the same name, not far from a better Googled town ‘Alyki’. After driving about a mile on a gravel track, we found a parking lot on a ledge with fe-no-me-nal views and access to the water. We even saw dolphins which I captured beautifully before noticing that the drone wasn’t recording…

Next to Kai and Amber there was another German with a very nice 7.5 ton truck with a converted military command post on it, and a couple of hippies from Switzerland with a smaller VW truck. Unfortunately, the latter felt it necessary to get their generator out and test the sound system that was hidden in their truck. At first it was nice, but for some reason they kept going and did not respond to our request to switch off their generator. Pretty annoyed, Nikki and I decided to just call it quits. We flattened the solar panel and drove back to the village itself. At the end of the road next to the beach we found a large parking lot. And since the village, filled with fish restaurants, was almost deserted, we decided to stay there for the night. We reclined the chairs in lounge mode towards the water and with the clatter of our Swiss boys carried across the sea we leaned back. Not much later I saw through my binoculars Kai’s camper, followed by our German friend Karsten, crawling over the gravel path towards the village. It all became too much for them too and not much later they were both with us.

The weekend started and the Greeks are also not averse to a weekend camping. About four vans and caravans joined us and the fishing rods and boats on trailers were brought out to fish all day and night. A very friendly atmosphere there on the beautiful boulevard along the water. The village was also equipped with fast free wi-fi, so it couldn’t get any better. Thank goodness the anti-social Swiss remained in place. We think they didn’t like the fact that their two dogs, who didn’t get along with other dogs or cats, had to stay on a leash with us around and therefore wanted to chase us away… Anyway, didn’t leave us, we were in a better position than before… The evening glow was also beautiful.

Until the next post! Where we visit the battlefield of 300 (the movie) in Thermopylae and warm up in a 40 degree river.

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