Taking in the Historical and
Archaeological Wonder that is Greece
Story by Alley L. Biniarz
Photography by Pam and Bill Seney
Pam and Bill Seney have been travelling together since the early days of their marriage as a way to see what the world has to offer. They’d seen and done a lot throughout their travels, but there was one place in particular that had been placed on the backburner. 35 years ago, they had their honeymoon trip set to Greece and its islands but with some political unrest they held off. Finally, after visiting over 60 countries, they can finally check it off their list.
For architecture and archaeology enthusiasts like Pam and Bill, Athens was an incredible highlight. The city is known to have shaped western civilization as the birthplace of democracy, being the home of prominent philosophers and contributing to the world through theatre and sculptures. As one of the most beautiful and influential cities in the world, there was ample for the couple to see during their stay.
“No matter where we looked, there always seemed to be something we could get excited about,” Pam explains about their arrival in Athens and taking in the historical magnitude just by walking down the streets. Bill says they didn’t partake in any guided tours, although there are many. “We did our own research and for the most part we walked or took the subway. It’s an excellent system and easy for anyone to use.” The travellers like to do their own research so that they don’t miss out on any of the must-sees in a city or country. “The idea is that I want to see and do everything because I don’t want to go back; I have the rest of the world to see,” Pam adds.
The two are early risers and like to take advantage of the day to go and do as much as they can. They each had sights that they wanted to check off, and one of those for Bill was Mars Hill, also known as Areopagus Hill. This is where the Apostle Paul confronted the epicurean and stoic philosophers regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Aside from the profound history, Bill said Mars Hill stood out for its spectacular views of the Acropolis.
Acropolis means “high city” in Greek and this elevated structure in Athens has become a focal point in the city. Over the years it’s been a home to kings, a citadel, a mythical home of the gods, a religious centre and is now a popular tourist attraction. It’s home to several temples, the most famous being The Parthenon which features sculptures and a bronze statue of the goddess Athena. The Acropolis can be seen from multiple points in the city but one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Athens is atop its highest point on Lycabettus Hill. Located in the heart of the city, the hill features an open-air theatre as well as the charming Saint George’s Chapel. “The sunset is the highlight of the place,” Bill says. “You can walk up or take the tram to view the entire city including the ocean, then witness the most beautiful sunset peak over the side of the Parthenon.” The couple usually didn’t head back to their hotel until after dinner and always splurged for an opportunity for a sunset view somewhere.
“The problem is there were so many places to see,” Pam says. “But Plaka, Athens’ oldest neighbourhood is definitely worth mentioning for its neoclassical architecture and cobblestone streets.” Plaka is vibrant with life and the perfect spot to stop for lunch or dinner, but it’s also adjacent to Syntagma Square where the parliament (and Pam’s must-do activity) was found.
The changing of the Presidential Guards was a unique experience for Pam and Bill, who had gone twice to see the occasion. The soldiers, known as Evzones, are guarding the monument of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, built in 1929-30 in memory of all of those who lost their lives fighting for Greece. Otherwise standing still, the guards cycle out every hour; their movements are slow and meticulous to warm up their circulation after standing still. The Evzones also lift their legs, stomping to make a loud sound that is meant to be heard by their ancestors to assure them that Greeks are still alive and strong. On Sundays at 11 am, their choreographed performance is even more theatrical as well as their uniforms, which are based on the ones used during the Greek War of Independence in 1821.
Pam and Bill also made a point of including the new Acropolis Museum to the itinerary to view all of the archaeological wonders it held. The design plan allows visitors to peer through a transparent floor panel to view artifacts beneath their feet and Bill says that he could have spent days looking at the over 4,000 archaeological finds; it’s one of the most advanced museums in the world and an absolute must for anyone travelling to Athens.
While Pam and Bill’s Athenian to-do list was long, it didn’t stop them from making time for the beach or from taking off to the islands for a few days. There are over 30 beaches around Athens, all directly on the sea with the view of islands before them and the city behind. Travelling in the month of September allowed the two to enjoy the beaches without the extreme heat of summer and the abundance of tourists.
The islands provided a switch in gears; seeped with just as much history, they also provided a sense of beauty and tranquility to the trip. “Every place had its own nuance, like Hydra which had no cars and was only accessible by horse and donkey. It’s a little fishing village that looks the way you expect Greek islands to with flowers draped over balconies, white and blue houses and a Town Clock Tower,” Pam shares. Aegina was also unique with its pistachio industry, where merchants were giving out free samples of decadent pistachio butters and pesto that Pam and Bill couldn’t resist buying to bring home with them.
The island with some of the most unbelievable history was Spinalonga in Crete, which was nicknamed the island of the living dead. This island was host to the leper community from 1903 to 1957, reaching around 400 residents during the outbreak of the illness. With so little known about the condition, those who sent these patients away didn’t expect for the inhabitants of the island to start living beyond survival. Meanwhile the residents started falling in love, having children who didn’t have the disease, and started to live life normally. The number of patients started to decrease, however the reference to the island’s name became taboo for years to come. Today, travellers can find a small plaque upon entering the island that urges respect for the souls that never managed to escape the island, and many say they can feel the hairs on the back of their necks stand up.
“We really try to embrace and immerse ourselves in the culture,” Bill explains their mode of travel. “We make sure to partake in the food, the environment, engage the people and do as much as we can while away.”
Overall, their trip was worth the wait. “I found Greece clean, friendly, safe, and I wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone to head to Athens as their core. It’s very inexpensive to get to the islands from there,” Pam shares. This was their 85th international trip and they’re far from done travelling yet. And although they don’t usually come back to the same spot twice, they might just make an exception for the Greek islands.