I have been fascinated by Greece since I was in high school and studied Greek mythology and the teachings of the great philosophers. Luckily I have had several opportunities over the years to visit and get a small glimpse of the history as well as the natural beauty of this country. So today I wanted to take a break from poetry and tell you about Greece from a visitors point of view.
Athens has been called the cradle of the Western civilization. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, with over 3000 years of recorded history. It was the cultural and political powerhouse of Greece and the home of famous ancient learning centers, such as Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum.
Today’s Athens is a bustling metropolis with over 3 million inhabitants in the greater Athens area, of which a bit less than 700,000 live in the city itself.
One can still feel the wings of history throughout the city that retains many ancient and other more recent historical monuments, the most famous of which is the Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis.
The last time we visited Greece, several years ago now, we were lucky to be invited by friends who were stationed in Athens at the time. They showed us around the city from Acropolis to the churches, monuments, museums and historical buildings. I could feel the past there, the culture and education, the wars and the invaders – all these influences were still present in the air.
Downtown Athens is lively with colorful flower shops and fruit markets, shops for Greek handicrafts and other souvenirs, boutiques and of course, packed with one cozy street café after another, and excellent restaurants where one can enjoy the famous Greek cuisine accompanied by authentic bouzouki music.
Our friends lived on one of the hills surrounding the downtown area – with cleaner air and wonderful views of Athens, both day and night!
After a few days of exploring Athens in the sweltering August heat, we felt the need to cool down! So we decided to visit one of the numerous islands in the central Aegean Sea, Paros. We had not visited this island previously, and discovered that to go there one could travel on a large cargo vessel from Athens’ harbor. That was an adventure in itself as only a few “passengers” were allowed onboard on any given voyage. So off we went on this large vessel early in morning, spent most of the day on the deck admiring all the small islands en route, and arrived in Paros late in the afternoon.
Paros has been known for its white marble, and somehow the sight approaching this island in the late afternoon sun was fitting this historical fact: clear blue water and blue skies enveloping the dazzling whitewash buildings.
The municipality of Paros consists of numerous small islets, many uninhabited, and one can easily reach a number of other islands from Paros, so much of the life on the main island is focused on marine activities: water transport by ferries, catamarans and sailing boats, whether of inhabitants or visitors. And on fishing, of course.
The tempo on this picturesque island is pleasant and leisurely, inviting the visitor to enjoy the small moments of life, like sitting down in a small side street café for a drink of ouzo and a plate of mezés in the middle of the afternoon.
In recent years, Paros has become more popular as a tourist destination. It has lots to offer in terms of clear blue waters, white beaches and numerous small secluded coves where one can still enjoy the sun and the sea breeze in relative privacy.
Paros is also attractive to surfers due to the wind conditions in the strait between Paros and neighboring Naxos, and visitors can engage in a variety of other watersports as well.
A visit to Paros, or one the other small islands in the Aegean Sea, is truly relaxing. One understands what Heraclitus meant when he said “the sun is new every day”. And by combining an island stay, or even island hopping, with a few days in Athens one can enjoy a fascinating combination of history and nature that feels both timeless and refreshing.