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Greece is the cradle of European civilization, and Athens has been its capital since 1834. There is never time to be bored or to be at a loss for an interesting activity in Athens. Visit the flea market and the bazaar area at Monastiraki, look inside some of the hundreds of tiny Byzantine churches, shop for a few hours in the fascinating boutiques of Pláka, have a leisurely lunch in a taverna, watch the people walk by, and maybe spend a little time writing in your travel diary.

 

When planning a trip to Athens, the weather is a consideration. Attica's sunshine and pleasant climate give visitors the opportunity to enjoy a trip to this beautiful city during any season. From March through May, it is almost always pleasant and mild. Between June and August, the temperature rises steadily, making August the month in which Athenians try to avoid the city. September is usually balmy, with occasional light rain. October offers beautiful weather. Most rain falls between November and February. Even so, there are many sunny days in winter and a brief, heavy rain is often followed by hours of brilliant sunshine. Average daytime temperatures range from 52F in January to 92F in August.

 

Athens has a population of five million. It is the country's heart and the economic and industrial center, as well as the political and cultural center. No matter how crowded it becomes with residents and tourists, visitors still find it hospitable and welcoming.

 

The structure of the land is characterized by a constant alternation of low mountains and small plains. Bays and rocky or sandy coves dot the coast of Attica. During the summer the beaches are filled with Athenians and others enjoying their beauty.

 

Athens can seem overwhelming at first. The mountains, the rocks, the historic ruins, the panoramic views of valleys and sea: nothing is small. Athens is not scrubbed and polished; it has an ancient, lived-in look as befits a city that has been inhabited for over 7000 years. Yet, it is so modern. An interesting feature of Athens is that it is a study in contradictions! At one moment you will be walking on modern streets with malls and superstores, then you will turn onto a side street and suddenly find yourself in another world with open air meat and fish markets, vegetable and fruit stands, and pigs, rabbits, and cows hanging upside down by their feet.

 

There are ruins in unexpected places throughout the city. What first appears to be a modern street will have fenced off areas containing parts of ancient toppled columns, statues, etc. They have been sitting there for hundreds of years and are now fenced for protection. Repair and restoration work is ongoing. A visit to the Acropolis will include the sight of workmen and ladders everywhere. The extensive work of preservation is impressive.

 

Following a visit to the Acropolis, it is an easy downhill stroll to the Agora, the heart of ancient Athens's political and commercial center. The Agora is steps from the Monastiraki and Pláka districts, each filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants. The next stop might be the National Archaeological Museum to see the Mycenaean gold, the classical bronze statues, and the beautiful frescoes from Akrotiri, the Minoan Pompeii on the island of Santorini. It is hard to leave the Museum, so try to plan for a return visit on another day.

 

The whole family will enjoy a walk (run) through the National Gardens, and will be able to join Greek children in admiring the ducks and peacocks in the small zoo. Another peak experience will be the culinary adventure of sampling Greek cuisine. Huge feta cheese salads with olives, tomatoes, lettuce, and locally produced olive oil are outstanding. The main course of a meal in a taverna specializing in spit roasting is usually a plate of some type of seafood or meat such as chicken, pork, lamb or beef. The meat is grilled on a spit outdoors. Side dishes of fruit and vegetables are also served. Local wines provide a complement to the meal.

 

While in Athens, consider a side excursion to one or more of the "isles of Greece." It is easy to arrange a day trip by boat from Piraeus to one or more of the islands of the Saronic Gulf: Aegina Egina, Poros, and Hydra Idra. All are feasible day trips but it is best not to schedule a tour for the day before you leave Athens. It is possible that a sudden storm could leave you stranded for a day on an island. Allow time to savor an unexpected adventure such as this!

 

Whatever the season, whether you have a day, a week, or a month to explore Athens, it is time to be treasured. Athens, rich in culture and contrasts, is a city like no other in the world.

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