Greece: Athens – Royal Gardens, Temple of Zues, Lykavittos Hill

Detail of inlaid stone around fountainWith a freshly soaking wet head I ventured outside on this marginally cooler day to see a few outdoor sites. Next to the Parliament building is the forty acre National Gardens. I went in the morning and spent a couple hours there. For one, it was at least twenty degrees cooler within the gardens than the rest of the city. Athens has few trees along roads or in squares. A cool breeze actually came out of any of the areas that had significant numbers of trees and greenery. So I didn’t mind staying there for as long as I did.

The turtle hiding among the flowers bolted as I approachedIt isn’t an organized botanical garden per se. It is a park riddled with meandering paths, pools and fountains. The fountains had intricately inlaid stones around them. The park was created in the 1840’s and was landscaped by Friedrich Schmidt, a Prussian horticulturist, who traveled the world looking for rare plants. It’s not the same park as it once was, but was a wonderful place for respite from the sun and heat.

Olympian Temple of ZeusThere were woodpeckers everywhere, just as many as the pigeons. I thought there was a strangely large bird under the leaves of a patch of purple flowers, until I noticed that it was actually a turtle. A speedy turtle that took off as I approached, but not before I could give him a little photo shoot!

On the far side of the National Gardens is the Olympiann Temple of Zues. It is the largest temple in Greece, even larger that the Parthenon. Construction began in the 6th century B.C. but was not completed until 650 years later. Only 15 of the original 104 columns remain, but there is enough of the temple left that you really get a sense for the enormous size and scale of the temple.

Fallen column of Olympian Temple of Zeus

In the evening Mark and I headed on over to Lykavittos Hill. At 910 feet it’s the highest point inside the city of Athens. The ancient belief was that it was the rock destined to become the Acropolis citadel, accidentally dropped by Athena. We rode the funicular which was like the inclines in Pittsburgh, but in a tunnel, I would have thought it would have been out in the open for the views on the ride.

Mark on the very edge of Lykavittos HillOnce to the top we enjoyed the panoramic views of the city, we could see the Aegean Sea off behind the Acropolis. There is a small monastery and bell tower on top of the hill as well. We enjoyed a lovely (and a refreshingly really non-Greek) dinner at the terraced restaurant on the hill. I had the Sole served with an orange glaze and almonds with a bitter greens salad with pomegranate. We shared a dessert involving flambeed tomatoes and strawberries served with a mango and green pepper sorbet.

Deb on Lykavittos HillWith the funicular on running every half and hour near midnight, we decided to walk down the hill. Even in the relative coolness of the evening air, it was a rough hike down, if we stopped moving, that gave the still air enough time to remind us how hot we were.

Most the of the dirt path on the way down wasn’t lit aside from what light from the moon. It was one of those quiet and private moments Mark and I get to share, with no one else in sight. Hiking down the highest hill in Athens at midnight. Midnight! The metro stops at midnight! We were a couple miles away from the hotel, but slogged through the heat and fell asleep the moment our heads hit the air conditioned hotel pillows.

Deb with the bell tower on Lykavittos Hill