In 2013, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I went on a history trek across Greece. We wanted to explore all of Athens, Delphi, and Thermopylae. We started our history tour in Athens. After our plane landed and we went through customs, we picked up our rental car from Avis. I had used Avis rental car in other countries before, but for me, the rental car is hit or miss. We rented one of my favorite cars to rent on vacation—the Fiat Panda. As the rental car attendant and I were going through the paperwork, she asked me if I’d like to pay $7 extra a day for a portable Wi-Fi hot spot that worked anywhere in the country and was limitless. I said, “Hell yeah!” and traded back in my GPS. Now I could use my phone for GPS and would be able to call through Wi-Fi apps while on the road. We got shown to our mini-car and off we went to our hotel. As we drove through the city, two things became very overwhelming. The first was all of the ancient monuments alongside the modern architecture, and the second was all the random spray-paint graffiti. None of the heritage pieces were “tagged,” but all the modern buildings were.
We checked into our hotel and then decided to drive around in the Panda. We found a quaint little restaurant that was up the hill from the main tourist shops and had a beautiful view of the sunset. At dinner, I ordered a lamb gyro like every single Greek restaurant in the United States serves it, and the waiter looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “In Greece, gyros are made with beef or chicken and have French fries wrapped in the pita with everything else.” The chicken and pork gyros (with French fries!) were very good, but I had no idea lamb gyros were American as apple pie.
The next morning, we headed out early because we had already chartered a SCUBA diving trip with Aqua Divers Club. They are based out of Anavyssos, Greece, which is about an hour outside of Athens. The dive shop was very professional, and they maintained good equipment. Our first dive was nothing too special, just a reef dive. However, the second dive was awesome because they took us to an island owned by the Greek Navy. While they do not allow trespassing on the island, we were allowed to dive a couple wrecks just off the coast of the island. It was my first wreck dive, and it was very cool to say the least. We finished up our dives, headed back to the shop, and then back to Athens.
After showering, we headed to the main tourist shop area in search of ouzo. Ouzo is a grain alcoholic drink that’s popular in Greece and Turkey. The Greeks and the Turks both say they invented it, but either way… “When in Rome!” Or Athens. Whatever. As you walk around at night, you get to see Athens from a whole other perspective than during the day because a lot of the ancient monuments are all lit up and you don’t see as much graffiti. We wandered around for a while taking in ruins and little handmade artifacts for sale and then headed back because we had some driving to do the next day.
The next morning, we headed out of Athens so we could spend the afternoon at Delphi and then be in Thermopylae for sunset. As I drove through the Greek countryside, I couldn’t help but think of all the battles that had been fought there, the many trade shops that came and went, and that man once believed that gods lived upon the very same mountains I was driving up. Greece is a very beautiful country filled with olive fields, Greek roadside shrines, and countless picturesque views of the Mediterranean.
When we arrived in Delphi, parking was free and non-cluttered. From the main entrance, you go inside a museum that has been carved out of the mountain, and you either pay for a ticket to the museum, a ticket to hike up the hill to the monuments, or a ticket for both. Once we purchased our tickets and started walking up the hill, the first object that I came across looked like a big rock cone sticking out of the earth. If you know your Greek mythology, this is supposed to be the exact spot where the two eagles that Zeus sent (one from the North and one from the South) met at the middle of the earth. It is referred to as the navel of the world.
As we ascended higher up the hill, we came across the temple where the Oracle would breath in mystic gases that allowed her to have premonitions. Scientists later discovered that the gases breathed in by the Oracle were not mystic, but rather venting gases that reached their way to the surface from the volcano.
There is so much to explore in Delphi. We saw the Ancient Theatre, the Ancient Stadium, and of course the Temple of Apollo—all before we went into the archeological museum. Inside the museum, you see sculptures, coins, and armor that date back thousands of years. If you enjoy history and that’s why you want to go to Greece, you have to go to Delphi as well. There were other Oracles, but the main Oracle was at Delphi.
After Delphi, we were off to the famous “Hell Gates” in Thermopylae. If you’re not familiar with place off the top of your head, you may remember the movie 300. This is where the battle of Thermopylae is where Spartan King Leonidas and only 300 of his personal bodyguards fought against King Xerxes and his massive Persian army. The Hell Gates was an ocean ridge that bottlenecked the Persian army between and mountainside and the ocean. Since the battle in 480 B.C., the shoreline has receded back miles and is now farmland until you reach the river. Finding the actual battle spot isn’t as easy as you think. We had to ask multiple people until we discovered a semi-big memorial with a big statue of Leonidas on top and in the center. I expected something so much more grandiose, but did not find it. The entire western civilization could have been lost if not for bravery of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans. Just beyond the memorial site is a small but very modern museum dedicated to the 300. It was built right before the 2008 stock market crash and now stays open thanks to donations. It’s free to get in and has a theater and multiple touchscreen tables to walk you through the history as well as many artifacts. We paid our respects to the ancient Spartans and then headed back to Athens to rest up for a full day of exploring.
The next day, we started early to try to beat all the other tourists to the Acropolis before all the tourist buses showed up. The Acropolis is so big that you never feel crowded. We took pictures of The Parthenon and of the beautiful 360-degree view you can get from on top the Acropolis. The rest of the day was spent seeing the Plaka (marketplace), going to the Panathenaic Stadium, and exploring the many random ruins that are located throughout the entire city. That evening, we went to the highest hill in all of Athens called Mount Lycabettus. From the top of this hill, you can see all of Athens and all its surrounding countryside. It’s free, very picturesque, and I highly recommend it for a great photo opportunity.
In the morning, we woke up, had some breakfast, and were off to the airport to fly to Istanbul. I plan on going back to Greece and seeing Santorini and some other temples that we didn’t get the chance to see during our three-day stay. Overall, I had a wonderful time. The food was excellent no matter where we went, everyone was very friendly and spoke English, and the little portable Wi-Fi from Avis was a godsend because it allowed us to access the web and make calls from anywhere we went. The only negative thing I would say about Greece is that some of the souvenirs and activities can be a little overpriced, but I feel that is in response to their poor economy. So shop around and don’t be afraid to haggle. I had to teach a couple Greek vendors that it’s easier to get a dollar out of a million people than it is to get a million dollars out of one person.