We arrived in Athens under the cover of darkness. Upon entering our hotel, Hotel Grande Bretagne, we were amazed and happy to find a king’s oasis. The hotel was without a doubt that most lavish hotel we have stayed in in Europe. The room was made of fine linens and a comfortable mattress. The bathroom had both a tub and a shower. And most importantly there was a refrigerator in the room. We arrived and quickly consumed the two dinners we had preordered from Chabad of Athens which we happily ate in our bedroom. It was two large meal proportions so we saved the rest away in the fridge for another meal. And then we fell quickly into slumber.
Our room in Hotel Grande Bretagne
The following morning we were off to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. We knew we didn’t have tons of time for all the museums we wanted to see so we narrowed it down to two – the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and the Acropolis Museum which we were set to see tomorrow. We utilized Rick Steve’s Audio Tour for the National Archaeological Museum.
We swept through each room as instructed by Rick and found it to be a more enjoyable tour because of it. We love Greek mythology so it was easy to fall in love with this museum. If you have time for only one museum – choose this one. We loved the artifacts on display and the stories behind them. It was a mesmerizing experience.
We then hopped into a cab after bargaining with the driver to go to Chabad. But because of severe traffic we hopped out and made our way by foot.
Helpful Hint: Always bargain for cab rides, they will ripe you off!
We ended up coming across the Athens Fish & Meat Market / Spice Market , which is a must if you happen to be in the area. But don’t go if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or can’t stomach the site of dead animals. The Fish & Meat Market consisted of booth after booth of dead animals and screaming vendors trying to sell their meat for the day. The Spice Market was a bit more of a relaxed environment and filled your nose with herbs and spices. We asked the Chabad Rabbi about what spices we could buy and he went through a detailed description of what is and isn’t kosher. So check with your Rabbi beforehand if this is something that might interest you.
Next up was Acropolis! What a sight for any pair of eyes. We once again utilized Rick Steve’s Acropolis Audio Tours as we made our way up Acropolis. The audio tour was very helpful and much cheaper than any guided tour we could have found on TripAdvisor. Due to a lot of hard work the Acropolis you see in front of you has been rebuilt. And many of the items – including the six sisters are actually replicas. The real Greek Six Sisters are housed in the Acropolis Museum .
Helpful Hint: Try to go to Acropolis in the early morning when the sun won’t be directly overhead!
Helpful Hint: The ticket we purchased for the Acropolis actually covered multiple sites including Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Roman Agora, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. You can divide your trips into separate days since there is no date on the tickets.
Winding our way through the narrow streets and turning through bended corners we found Ancient Agora. Probably suffering from a bit of dehydration we dragged ourselves through Ancient Agora using Rick Steve’s Ancient Agora Audio Tour. This tour was a bit dryer than the rest and difficult to maneuver, especially since we entered through the back entrance and not the front. Ancient Agora sits right next to the Acropolis, so it’s a must to tag on to your trip itinerary.
We managed to have a very packed day by time shabbat rolled around and we had to light candles at 8:33 PM. We happened to find ourselves in Athens this past July when protests were raging and restrictions were placed on ATM withdrawals for their citizens. We were more cautious because of this, but we encountered no issues other than a protest outside of our hotel.
Protest outside of our hotel
We made our way through the crowd and over to Synagogue Beth Shalom where we davened. Make sure to bring your Passport with you, as you will need to show security before you enter. The synagogue was cloaked in an indisputable beauty. The cantor wore an outfit more similar to a Greek priest than a Brooklyn Rabbi. But the night was magical as women sat on the second floor balcony peeking down at their husbands and sons. It turned out that many in the shul were visiting from Long Island on a cultural heritage tour. Many of us accompanied the Chabad Rabbi back to the Chabad of Athens for a tasty meal full of plates and plates of food. We walked home with our bellies full and our hearts happy.
Shabbat was spent as leisurely as possible – with walks and reading. And we found Shabbat over before we knew it.