We had a great 4 nights 3 days stay at Athens and our experience was mixed; on one side you have the classical Athens, once the cradle of western civilisation and birthplace of democracy with impressive architecture, most of which are in ruins leaving it all to our imagination and on the other side the modern Athens – a sprawling mega city teaming with people everywhere and nightmare traffic in narrow roads.
Day 1. Reached Acropolis entrance around 10 am. Not many visitors and the weather was pleasant. First stop was Theater of Dionysus and then walked up via the Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre (much better preserved than Theater of Dionysus and reached the grand edifice The Parthenon grounds. The area around main Parthenon Temple is cordoned off due to renovation work so we had to just go around the temple amid ruins and renovation debris. You can also see the Lycabettus hill and the modern Athens city jungle from the Acropolis. Spent little more than an hour and walked down to Roman Agora through winding lanes.
Theater of Dionysus
Passed the Athens University Museum and stopped at a cute little café Klepsydra(?) for some Baklawa and coffee. Reached Roman Agora and were put off by the aggressive hawkers (looked like Africans?) at the gate trying to sell some color threads. The Roman Agora was a disappointment as there was practically nothing except a few pillars.
Moved on to Adrianou Street to reach Ancient Agora. We were hungry by now, partly due to the mixed aroma of food from the restaurants lining up the street. Had a quick lunch at a corner restaurant with a local beer Mythos. Just realized that it was past 3 pm and the Ancient Agora was closed for the day.
Walked in to the by lanes visiting the several colourful shops selling souvenirs, knickknacks, clothes etc. Bought ice cream at the Hans &Gretel themed confectionery shop and walked further to realize we were already into the thick of Monstiraki Flea Market! The market was teaming with people locals as wells tourists. Spent a couple of hours in the area and then took the metro from the Monastiraki Station and reached our accommodation close to Acropolis Museum station.
Hans and Gretel!!!
Every tourist brochure shouts loudly not to miss the sunrise at the world’s largest temple complex of Angkor Wat. There are thousands of pages on the internet describing how people watched the sun rising behind the triple towers of Angkor Wat. Not to regret later, we decided to make it to the sun-rise experience – whether it’s mystical, magical or just man-made hype.
We got up at 4.30 am, well before the roosters start their wake up calls and while the dawn moon was still above. Brushed, dressed and jumped on to the Tuk-Tuk (we had arranged the previous day) and off we went thinking we will be one of the early ones to see the magic. Mistake: there was literally a Tuk-Tuk race on the road ferrying tourists to watch the sunrise! The 30 minute ride on a cool… rather chilly morning was enough to rev up our senses from the morning blues. Reached the place only to find there were already hordes of tourists having occupied prime spots.
The place is picture postcard…. The temple towers standing majestically with their faint reflection on the still waters of the pond in front with a splatter of Lotuses and water Lilies. The misty, foggy atmosphere and the gibberish whispers of the waiting spectators added a surrealistic aura around the place.
I nudged myself into the crowd and positioned in a corner of the banks of the pond…. and waited patiently for THAT moment.
As the dawn was cracking up slowly, cameras and smart phones of all sizes and shapes started snapping endlessly, capturing each slight change in the skyline. Then the magic started unfolding; streaks of light in a stunning mix of glowing orange and rustic gold peeked out from behind the towers, beautifully and artistically disrupted by the intricate grooves of the temple sculptures. A stunning reflection of Angkor Wat was slowly spreading out on the still waters of the pond. With the water lilies and lotuses spouting between the reflections, it looked like a classic painting. As the sun slowly peaked above the Wat, the veins of light grew bigger bathing the colossal monument in golden glory and the beauty and power of the Khmers’ masterpiece erupted in full splendor. I stood speechless watching the magical spectacle! Moments later the climax was over and the crowds dispersed… some heading back and some heading to the Wat to start their day’s itinerary.
Is the experience worth all the trouble…. ditching your early morning deep sleep, braving the chill wind, jostling with an over-enthusiastic crowd etc…?
I think it is an experience worth its every moment. An hour of mystic, magic and dramatic light and shadow play over one of the most elaborate and stunning tributes to the Gods. Probably the Sun is thanking the Khmer kings and blessing the Angkorians with this cosmic show every day. Do not miss it.