Athens sans the Acropolis

Acropolis is not Athens and Athens is not Acropolis. This we observed on our first intro to the marvel, which was eventually confirmed on subsequent visits to the Greek capital. There was so much more to see and experience outside of the enduring ancient complex.

VALUED LEGACY: Visitors pose before the Academy of Athens beside Athena, Apollo, Plato and Socrates, statues

On our most recent exploration, after happily hopping from one Greek island to the next — each with a unique and distinct highlight — we decided to take a leisurely stroll from our hotel. We soon stumbled upon and loitered around more must-sees, all worthy destinations on their own!

We were excited to touch down at the Academy of Athens, considered the premier research center. Its title is a reference to, yes, you guessed it, The Academy of philosopher Plato.

HALLS OF WISDOM: One of the several rooms inside the academic building

Today, its facade is one of Athens’ most notable spots. A symmetrical neoclassical structure, the Academia is regarded by architectural experts as one of the most beautiful in the world. And to think its influences were based on aged documents and recreations tracing back to 5th century BC.

As we stopped on the fine marble steps, we were awestruck by the figures of Athena and Apollo on high pedestals. Almost simultaneously, we were likewise shocked to see the intricate details on the statues of Socrates and Plato, both deep in thought — remember, they were philosophers.

DEPOSITORY PAR EXCELLENCE: The National Archaeological Museum

This notable institution of learning houses its own encyclopedic collections of books and journals, with their own share of art pieces.

We moved on to the National Archaeological Museum, considered one of the greatest, which contains several of the key relics of ancient Greece, in exhaustive room after room.

STUDENT HIDEAWAY: Books Plus bookstore

Due to the value of these artifacts, the prized antiquities were sealed in special containers and buried to avoid destruction, degradation and devastation during World War II.

An interesting sight was the archaic terracotta statuette daidala, an ode to the Bronze Age and the inspiration behind Athena and Phevos, the adorable 2004 Athens Olympic mascots.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL: The five-foot Greek Renaissance mural inside the Books Plus bookstore

Just a street away was Books Plus, a grand bookstore with an eye-catching huge mural reminiscent of the Greek Renaissance.

We actually spotted several scholars —philosophers of the future — quietly and completely engrossed in their own worlds, deep in research and review at the upstairs coffee shop.

PRECISION TIME: A sundial rests at the center of a flower patch at the National Garden

At the center of the city, by the Olympic Stadium of the 1896 Olympic Games, is the National Gardens. All of 38 hectares, it is a favorite getaway not only for its cared for trees, shrubs and flowers, but also its impassive ruins, columns, sculptures and busts. We stopped by a square patch of blooms which enclosed a sundial that could still tell time accurately.

The Changing of the Guard is a must-see whenever the ceremony is commenced — be it in Taipei or in London. And the list is long. We found ourselves at the Syntagma Square, where we witnessed the presidential guards in full regalia execute the tradition.

UNDER THE SHADE: The author leans under an imposing tree at the National Garden

A friendly local informed us the venue is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument, which honors all the nameless military personnel who died in service of Greece. We paused and bowed in silent prayer.

WATERING HOLE: Colorful bottles fill up the walls of the bar

Come afternoon, we drove to the quaint neighborhood of Plaka, a strictly for-pedestrians-only community. The streets transported us into the laid-back old days of the community, where a trio of elderly men chatted at their favorite saloon, mothers congregated at the market and children played by the roadside.

MILITARY HOMAGE: The Changing of the Guards at the Syntagma Square

We rested at a cozy cafe for some coffee and desserts, while others opted to explore antique and souvenir shops for take-me-home memorabilia.

PAINTER’S CANVAS: A bike with flowers rests by a cozy cafe at the Plaka

As the sun began to set, we settled at a tavern with brightly-colored bottles all along its walls. The effect was a vibrant and cheery atmosphere where families and friends gathered, us included, to relish the best of Greek cuisine.

LOOKS GREEK TO ME: Honey Jarque Loop studies a route map

While at the bar, where the regulars became more friendly with each other with each passing hour, one teased on the oldest olive tree in existence — which they say may range from 2,000 to 4,000 years old — and yet, still bears fruit until today.

MILLENNIA AGO: The oldest olive tree in existence?

But that’s for another story, another time.

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