Adventures in Athens

It is said that the area than the city of Athens encompasses has been inhabited for over 7,000 years, continuously. Because of its age and history, the city is home to a multitude of architectural styles and its historic sights are some of the best known by the modern world. In fact, the number of tourists who visit Greece every year is higher than the actual population of Greece.

Thankfully, as with many places that have relatively temperate climate year-round, visiting Athens in the off-season provides you a glimpse of the birthplace of Democracy with NO crowds, and some exceptional lodging options. And even when there are few tourists around, there are still street vendors offering fresh fruit, nuts and olives for a nice afternoon snack. One of the other benefits of visiting Athens in the off-season is that the usually pushy restaurant hustlers generally offer your discounts and freebies if you are polite to them, but begin to walk away.

Most people, when they think of visiting Athens, think of the Parthenon. And for good reason. Perched atop the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the Propylaia date back to the 5th century BC. Over the centuries, the Parthenon has served as a temple, a church, a mosque, military barracks and a munitions dump. It has been set on fire, shaken by earthquakes, looted, defaced, and it was blown up when the munitions stored inside it detonated during the Turkish and Venitian fight over Athens.

In fact, the Parthenon itself has so much history it is generally a wise idea to take a trip through the Parthenon Museum before you actually visit. You’ll get a much better understanding of exactly what you’re seeing while you’re on the Acropolis, and don’t forget to visit the outdoor (free) section of the museum which features uncovered ancient ruins. If you’re looking for a historic tour like no other, book yourself one of the Segway tours of the Parthenon and other historic sites. It is well worth the cost, and fun for everyone in the family.

Athens features other historic sites as well. Pnyx (pronounced “nix”) Hill is about half a kilometer west of the Acropolis. Athenians used to gather there to discuss politics and make decisions pertaining to the city itself. Pnyx Hill is the actual birthplace of democracy, for it was here that all the male citizens of Athens were declared equal and given the right to vote and take part in the decision making. It also sports a pretty fantastic view of the city.

There are modern locations to visit as well. Pay a visit to the Olympic Track and run a lap, or stand on the medals podium for a pretty great photo op. When Athens was modernizing their infrastructure for the 2004 Summer Olympics, subway construction and modernization unearthed over 50,000 artifacts buried beneath the city. There were so many, in fact, that six of Athens subway stations are museums unto themselves. So when you’re getting ready to take a trip on Athens’ very clean and timely subway (don’t rent a car unless you absolutely have to), leave a little extra time to check the exhibits.

For a breathtaking walk through ancient ruins strewn among vegetation, rare plants, and saplings, pack a lunch and make an afternoon trip to the National Garden. The garden is home to 519 species and varieties of trees, bushes and other plants from around the world. Beautiful during any season, the Garden is just off the Syntagma subway station, and is open from dawn until dusk. It also features a conservatory, children’s library and a small cafe.

Finally, when you’ve had enough of ancient ruins and beautiful gardens, you should take advantage of Athens burgeoning street art scene. Several neighborhoods have been transformed into open air art galleries with phenomenal graffiti murals. In fact, several tour companies offer guided street art tours that will cap your visit with a taste of modern day Athens. So when you’re ready to travel back in time to the days of Aristotle and Plato, reach out to Endless Travel to help put together the perfect visit.


Recommended reading:
  • Kassandra and the Wolf, Margarita Karapanou
  • Red Dyed Hair, Kostas Mourselas
  • The Other Alexander, Margarita Liberaki
  • Something Will Happen, You’ll See, Christos Ikonomou

Western Austria

If ever there was a place where the fields truly were alive with music, it is Western Austria. From cowbells on the hills, to concertos from native son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, to actual people playing actual alpenhorns, the hills teem with enough songs and sights to satisfy even the most discerning traveler.

Western Austria encompasses the high Alpine peaks of Tyrol and Vorarlberg as well as the rolling mountains of Salzburgerland and Carinthia. Nestled among the mountain tops and valleys are flush with castles of every size and style. As you make the stunning drive through the Alps it’s not difficult to stumble upon a “Burg” (military/government castle), “Schloss” (palace), or “Schlössl” (manor) in any state of ruin, repair or resplendence. There is even a bus ride up to Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest above the Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden.

Between castles are beautiful mountain villages with white walls and dark, ornate trim and flower boxes. They are the traditional “gingerbread houses” of Hansel and Grettle fame. It is not unusual to stumble upon a village festival, where you can fill yourself with bratwurst, sauerkraut, pretzels, schnitzel and beer along with local specialties influenced by German, Hungarian and Italian tradition. Knowing how to say “Bitte” (please) and “Danke” (thank you) will thrill the locals, who will be more than happy to go above and beyond to help a friendly traveler.

Outside of the grand castles and picturesque villages, there is still a lot to do and see in Western Austria. Former volcanic zones have dappled the countryside with spas (thermen) and hot springs (thermalbäder) which have spawned a whole industry around therapeutic treatment and rehab programs. They are, however, still open to everyone just looking to swim in steaming hot water any time of year.

Tauren Spa

Therme Aqua Dome” in Längenfeld is your typical example of a modern-day Austrian spa, featuring a sauna village, a beauty farm, pools to swim in outside, and the Aqua Dome itself. Less touristy, but just as well equipped is Tauren Spa in the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park. Tauren’s waterslides and huge indoor pools are only eclipsed by the stunning views and vistas everywhere you look.

For those who prefer a bit more adventure than hot springs, adventure also awaits beneath the mountains. Deep beneath the mountains surrounding Salzburg, you can tour the “white gold” mines in Hallein and Berchtesgaden. Ride a small mine train deep inside the salt mines (Salzkammergut) to see mines which have been in operation for over 500 years. A 36-meter long miner’s slide, a subterranean salt lake, and the famed Salt Cathedral are all just a short bus ride from Salzburg.

Ice Cave

And if one underground excursion isn’t enough for you, be sure to check out Eisriesenwelt, the World of the Ice Giants. The largest ice cave in the world, Eisriesenwelt is a 42 km deep, natural limestone and ice cavern inside Hochkogel mountain. Even though the cave was long known to locals, it wasn’t explored until 1879 because Austrian legend had dubbed it “the entrance to hell.” Now it plays host to over 200,000 visitors between May and October every year.

Finally, no visit to Western Austria would be complete without watching a sunset over Königssee, a natural lake within the Berchtesgaden National Park. The cleanest lake in the country, only electric and human powered boats are allowed to set sail on it.

No matter what song you sing, Western Austria will provide wonderful accompaniment for your journey. Endless Travel will gladly help you set up your Alpine music debut, so contact them today!


Recommended Reading:

The Habsburgs: The History of a Dynasty – Benjamin Curtis
Brother of Sleep – Robert Schneider
The Painted Kiss – Elizabeth Hickey
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution – Nicholas Meyer