Great Times in Greece
After five months on the road we’re been eagerly anticipating our entry into Greece. Leaving Melnik Bulgaria, it was a short drive to the border where our crossing was quick and uneventful. Greece is part of the Schengen Area which was unfortunate for us because we were nearing the 90 day limit for visa-free travel; our stay in Greece would have to be brief!
On the way to Athens we figured we’d make a quick stop in Thessaloniki to see the major historic sites. This turned out to be a mistake. As soon as we exited the freeway we ran into bumper to bumper traffic.
Navigating in Thessaloniki was a nightmare, and finding a parking spot was near impossible. After driving by (at a crawl) several of the major sites we decided to give up and continue to Athens. Later we learned that we should have instead visited nearby Pella, the ancient capital of Macedon. Maybe next time.
We finally made it to Athens just after dark, where we ordered in some Greek food and settled in to our AirBnb.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The next day the first order of business was collecting the race packet for the Marathon the following day (more on that below). Afterwards we took a short walk around our neighborhood, visiting the National Garden and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Today only 15 of the original 104 columns of the temple remain. Given the size of the columns the temple must have been a truly impressive sight. The construction of the temple took over 600 years and was actually completed by a Roman, Emperor Hadrian. Sadly, it was destroyed less than a century after it was completed.
The main reason we decided to visit Athens was so that Wes could run the “Authentic” Athens Marathon. Legend has it that the very first marathon was run by the messenger Philippides from the town of Marathon to Athens, to announce the victory of the Greeks over the Persians. After exclaiming “We have won!” Philippides breathed his last.
Clearly, running 26.2 miles is not to be taken lightly so Wes put in a lot of training runs as we traveled from city to city. When race day arrived I (Wes, switching to first person now) got up early to catch the bus to the starting line in Marathon. Arriving almost two hours before the start of the race, I tried to quell any jitters by walking around the historic stadium.
Selfie with the Olympic Flame.
As 9:00 approached I found my way to my starting block. After a few welcoming speeches (in Greek) the runners raised their right hands to recite the Olympic Oath. And with that, we were off.
The marathon course is mostly uphill for the first 20 miles, then downhill to the finish line in the Pantheatic Stadium. Since my main goal was to finish without bonking hard my strategy was to be very conservative until I reached the high elevation point.
The first few miles of the race were rather uneventful, except for a few moments where I found myself running alongside a flock of sheep. Apparently they had gotten startled at the sight of thousands of runners and bolted from their pen.
Spectators along the route shouted “Bravo” and handed out olive branches for runners to carry to the finish line. I accepted a sprig and stuck it into my hat.
Later the route took us through a community that had been devastated by wildfires over the summer. Spectators in this stretch wore black and many carried signs in remembrance of the 99 people who died in the fast-moving fire.
All along the way to the top of the hill at mile 20 I had been able to maintain a pretty steady pace a little under 9 minutes per mile. When I finally reached the top I felt a sense of joy and relief and decided to try to up my pace a little bit. By mile 23 my sense of elation had run out and my legs started feeling very heavy. Fortunately there were increasing numbers of cheering spectators to push me toward the finish.
Finally the finish line came into view and my spirits lifted again. After crossing the finish line I was given a medal in the shape of the stadium, and a bag with a couple of drinks and a banana. There was no real post-race party so I re-joined my cheering squad and headed back to the apartment for a shower.
After a few hours of rest after the race, we ventured out for some more sightseeing because we only had a limited amount of time in Greece (darn Schengen visa area!!). We made our way to the relatively new Acropolis Museum (it opened less than 10 years ago) to learn about some of the major sites.
The kids particularly enjoyed the kids’ activities that focused on learning about Athena and her symbols. They became experts at identifying her statues. Despite all the ancient artifacts in the museum, they were most impressed with the Lego acropolis on display. We spent a lot of time looking at all the interesting details. Some were historic details, some less so. In the picture below you can just spot Gandalf in the bottom right corner, arriving on a cart wearing his grey hat.
The main site to see in Athens (and probably all of Greece) is the Acropolis, upon which the Parthenon and many other ancient structures were built. As we made our way up to the top of the rock we imagined what it must have been like to be an ancient traveler coming to Athens for the first time and seeing the majestic buildings.
After leaving the Parthenon was visited Aeropagus, a large rock outcropping that is notable as the site of Paul’s sermon about the “Unknown God.” It was neat to stand in the same place where Paul once preached.
The Ancient Agora of Athens
Beneath the Acropolis is the Ancient Agora, the main public gathering place in Ancient Athens. Within the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, which is unique because it is largely intact.
Our visit to Athens really brought history to life and the kids got a lot out of seeing the ancient Greek sites up close and it seemed to spark their interest in learning about history.
In our next update we discover that we made an AirBnb booking error and make a snap decision to go see Delphi. Check back soon! 🙂