Lycabettus Hill, a limestone rock over a 1,000 feet tall is one of the highest points in the city of Athens. You can pretty much spot this landmark with the Church of St. George from many points in the city. Given all the bad rap Athens gets as a city (congestion, pollution, not a place to hang around for too long), this spot away from the crowds is a lovely place to soak in the city and its views.
On our first trip to Athens, the discovery of Lycabettus Hill gave my husband a tremendous source of joy. Eureka! He had discovered the perfect workout. Run up and down the spiral path 3-4 times and get an amazing challenge. So, while he indulged in his drive to best his time, I soaked in what the venue had to offer.
First, you can get to the top of Lycabbettus Hill either on foot or using the funicular railway. Given what I just mentioned about my husband, my taking the two-minute funicular ride would have been viewed as a major act of laziness. So, while he ran, I walked my way to the top.
It was a lovely clear day and it was not too crowded either. Once up there, I spent time taking in the 360 degree views and identifying the various places that we had either been to or had to cover. Next I stopped at the Church of St. George and after offering a prayer and lighting candles, alighted to the cafe to reward myself with a treat. There was absolutely no sense of guilt as I watched my husband continuing his run. In fact, I might have just eaten enough for two!
At the hilltop, there was also an open air theatre where many a renowned artist has performed. So, you might want to time your trip with a musical celebration as well.
The second time up at the hill, I was with my father and the girls and this time we took the funicular up there. While I did feel some guilt at not walking up, it wasn’t strong enough to prevent me from enjoying my dessert and coffee.
I would love to go back and visit and if I do, would actually love to take a picnic lunch up to have an amazing meal with such lovely surroundings.
Lycabettus Hill is a nice long walk from Syntagma Square. Alternately, you can take the metro to the Evagelismos stop and walk from there.
When people ask me what the greatest moment of my life was so far, I always respond saying: “The whole spiel’s been pretty great. If I had to narrow it down to a single memory, then I would have had a fairly boring life.” And yet, the concept of a “greatest moment” is an often recurring thought in my mind. What in life has made me feel like I was watching that paper bag floating in the air in American Beauty? Made me feel exactly like Rick Fitts when he says that “sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in…” ?
I have been lucky enough to see so much of this incredible world. I will be eternally grateful for every experience I’ve had traveling, and each has shaped me in its own, indelible way. But there have been a few moments that have taken my breath away and made me feel like I was a part of something far larger and more meaningful than myself. And one of the first times I ever felt that, a time that has been scarcely paralleled since, was when I was standing on Cape Sounion in Greece. I was in front of the majestic Temple of Poseidon as the blood red sun set over the Aegean Sea and into the stormy blue waters below.
I was a freshman in high school on spring break in Athens. We had already seen the key historical sites in the city: The Parthenon, Acropolis, Temple of Hephaestus, the Olympic Stadium, and several other memorable areas. Both my parents and grandfather had already visited the city before, and so this was really a trip tailored towards bringing to life what my sister and I had read and learned about in our history textbooks for years. Greek mythology had intrigued us every since we were introduced to the most fundamental stories of the Gods and Goddesses who reigned over Mount Olympus. I read ancient classics voraciously. Anthologies of myths, The Odyssey, modern day adaptations of older texts…the list went on. This period of my life was imperative in ingraining in me a deep passion for storytelling.
On one of our days in Athens, equipped with full stomachs of some of the freshest Baklavas I have ever eaten, we boarded a bus that would take us to Mount Sounion, home of the Temple of Poseidon. My mom had told me that it was one of the most stunning sights she had ever experienced. But after seeing the iconic Parthenon and several other significant monuments, I felt a bit jaded (something that I would never say now as a more mature traveler and interested learner). I didn’t think that a two-hour journey on a bus- my least favorite form of transportation- was worth it to see yet another temple when we had already seen more than I could count.
But I acquiesced, and was soon being transported away from the heart of Athens and into a part of Greece that I hadn’t seen before. We rode along the coast in some traffic. The water glistened under the late afternoon sun, the subtle motion of the waves transforming into glittering crystals. It was like watching choreographed stars dancing in the water. My doubts about this trip were already diminishing, and with my camera to my eye, I reveled in the beauty.
About two hours later, we had reached Mount Sounion, located at the southern tip of the Attica Peninsula. It was slightly windy as we got out of the bus to begin making our ascent to the temple. I could see it from below. It didn’t seem like anything more impressive than what I had already seen on this trip. We climbed the rocky terrain for about ten minutes.
When we reached the summit of Sounion, the Temple of Poseidon towered over us with the roaring force of something to be reckoned with. If you are familiar with The Odyssey, this is where King Menelaus stops on his way back from Troy to bury one of his helmsman. My notion of this site being trivial in the epic was turned on its head. Tremendous Doric columns, some much smaller than others, bear the marks of a battering natural history as they loom above us, almost menacingly. I wish I could describe the architectural design of the temple in more detail. But that was about as much as I saw in depth, because before I knew it, the sun had touched the horizon.
And when that happened, cliche acknowledged, my life was changed.
It was as if someone had applied an extreme contrast filter to the entire world. Everything around me had metamorphosed into dark blues, dark reds, dark yellows, dark oranges. In the distance, somewhere far, far away in the Aegean Sea, I could see the single beacon of light: the glowing rays of a sinking sun. The Temple soared above me and the waves bellowed below. My existence was meaningless here. How could I mean anything when this much energy whirl pooled around me? It was as if Poseidon truly dwelled here, because standing as an insignificant atom in this tremendous splendor, I felt something overtake me and everything that surrounded my body. Poseidon’s spirit? Ages and ages of history swirling in a continuum? Sheer, unparalleled power and beauty?
I don’t know how to describe that moment. But standing there at the summit of Sounion in the home of Poseidon, I felt, for one of the first times in my life, that the magic of stories could translate into the magic of reality. I rarely cry thinking of moments like this, but just remembering the profound impact this experience had on me brings tears to my eyes as I write. There is something sacred in this world that defeats and empowers us at the same time. Just like it does to the heroes of the mythology we read. And being at the Temple of Poseidon as the sun set gracefully into a sea of dark blue wonder made me feel like ““sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in…”
Getting there: You can take one of the many half day guided tours that leave for Mount Sounion each day from your hotel or Syntagma. Alternately, if you are more adventurous and want a more local experience, you can take a city bus from Syntagma.
We at Paupers want to feel enriched by our travels without draining our wallet. Price and location drive our lodging choices and when faced with a choice of one more experience or indulging in a hotel, we always chose the former.
Due to differences in the economy/the exchange rates over several years, we experienced two hotels, separated a world apart in Athens.
We were pretty excited when we snagged a deal at one of Athens’ premier addresses, Hotel Grande Bretagne. Situated smack in the middle of Syntagma Square, history oozing through its every pore, the hotel is an elegant old world property that has played host to heroes and villains in history. Winston Churchill has been a guest as have the leaders from the third Reich! The staff was efficient, the rooms formal but tastefully done, the doorman always greeting us and yet what appealed to us most about this property was not the hotel, but what lay outside. We had to just step outside to see the changing of the guard, we looked forward to the elderly couple selling us sesame coated bagels, our to-go-veggie sandwiches from Everest, walking to the restaurants in Plaka and of course shopping along Ermou Street. The hotel was a lovely place to come back to each night, but to us, there was nothing they did to make our Athenian visit special.
Fast forward a few years, and the strength of the Euro made us go further out and select the Art Hotel near Omonia Square. While the hotel looked pretty good on the web and cost us more than what the Grand Bretagne did, it was a modest property with a small room and an even tinier bathroom. We would live in pretty cramped quarters for a week! And the busy thoroughfare location ensured us a constant sound of cars and bikes! And yet, from the word go, the lady at the front desk seemed to care about us. She wanted to make sure we got enough to eat at breakfast, told us how to get around on the metro that was a few blocks away, wanted to know our plans and gave us tips to do things more effectively with kids and a senior in tow! Of course, the most touching aspect was when two days later, they had a vacancy in the adjacent room and gave it to my father so he would have enough space….without charging us a dime for the extra room for the duration of our stay. Every night, we would be asked about our day, our plans for the following day and of course what the kids’ reaction was to all the events of the day.
Sure the Grand Bretagne had a dedicated concierge if you wanted one, but our friend at the Art Hotel made it her business to be one and served us in the true spirit of “philoxenia” – translated as taking care of a foreigner.
To learn more about The Grand Bretagne, click here: