Czech Republic – Kutná Hora & Český Krumlov

After visiting Prague it was time to move on to my next destinations; Kutná Hora and Český Krumlov. First stop was Kutná Hora.

Kutná Hora was first founded in 1142 with the settlement of Sedlec Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Bohemia. In 1260 German miners flicked to the area to begin mining for silver in the surrounding mountain region. There was great economic prosperity from the 13th thru 16th centuries and the city competed with Prague economically, politically and culturally.

In 1420, Emperor Sigismund made the city the base For his unsuccessful attack on the Taborites during the Hussite Wars, which lead to the Battle of Kutná Hora. Kutná Hora was taken by Jan Zizka, but was burned by imperial troops in 1422 to prevent it falling into the hands of the Taborites. Zizka still the reigns of the city nonetheless and it emerged to new prosperity.

Kutná Hora was eventually passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. In 1546 the most prosperous of the mines was flooded. Eventually the plague, 30 years war, and a fire did the city in. The city became impoverished and the mines were eventually abandoned at the end of the 18th century.

The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. When I was here I visited the Church of Saint James (which was under construction), and St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

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After visiting Kutná Hora is was time to drive further along to my next stop, Český Krumlov, where I would be staying for the next two days.
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Český Krumlov started in 1240 when a settlement rose around a castle by the Vitkovci family, descendants of the Witiko of Prčice. The family died off in 1302 And Kind Wenceslaus II ceded the town and castle to the Rosenberg family. Peter 1 of Rosenberg, the Lord Chamberlain of King John of Bohemia, resided here and had the upper castle erected. Most of the people living below the castle were German-speaking at the time and migrated from Austria and Bavaria.

The Rosenbergs encouraged trade and crafts within the town wall, and when gold was found next to the town, German miners came to settle. William of Rosenberg, High Treasurer and High Burgrave of Bohemia, had the castle rebuilt in a Renaissance style during the time.

In 1602 Williams brother Peter Vok of Rosenberg sold Cesky Krumlov to the Habsburg emperor Rufolf II, who then gave it to his son Julius d’Austria. After the Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II gave Český Krumlov to the noble House of Eggenberg. From 1719 to 1947 the castle belonged to the House of Scwarzenberg.

After Word War I the city was part of the Bohemian Forest Region, which was initially declared part of German-Austria. The Czechoslovak army occupied the region by 1918, and it eventually became part of Czechoslovakia. in 1938 it was claimed by the Nazi Germans. After World War II the German speaking population was expelled and the town was returned to Czechoslovakia.

Under the communist ruling of Czechoslovakia the town fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 much of the town has been restored. The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. The town was severely damaged in a great flood in 2002, but has since been repaired.

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Belgium – Brussels – Day 2 of 2

Today I woke up at 8:00am and had some coffee in my room before venturing out to explore more of the city.

First stop was Hôtel van Eetvelde, which was sadly under construction so I couldn’t get any good pictures of it. Hôtel van Eetvelde is a town house designed in 1895 by Victor Horta for Edmond van Eetvelde, the administrator of Congo Free State.

Second stop was Maison Saint-Cyr was built in 1903 to serve as a mansion for the painter Georges Saint-Cyr. The façade is about four metres wide, and is rich in finely worked ironwork that forms a set of lines, curves and geometric figures. Each balcony has a railing with different patterns.

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Third stop was Stoclet Palace, after a few quick photos of some various things along the way. Stoclet Palace was built in 1911 in the Viennese Secession style by architect Josef Hoffmann. It was built for Adophe Stoclet, a wealthy industrialist and art collector.

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Fourth stop and fifth stop was Arcades du Cinquantenaire and Autoworld. Arcades du Cinquantenaire is a triple arch in the centre of Brussels and is topped by a bronze quadriga sculpture group with a woman charioteer, representing Brabant raising the national flag. Autoworld is a substantial collection of vintage vehicles in extremely well preserved states.

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The sixth stop was the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a beautiful Art Deco church that was completed in 1970. Construction began in 1905 in Neo-Gothic style, but only the foundations had been completed before World War 1 broke out. Construction of the actual basilica began in 1919, with the architectural style changing to Art Deco, and was not completed until 1970.

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The seventh and eighth stops were Mini-Europe and Atomium. Mini-Europe is a miniature park that was started in 1989 and represents over 80 countries and 350 buildings. Atomium was designed and constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo by architect Andre and Jean Polak. It is 102 metres (335 feet) tall and has nine 18 metre (60 foot) diameter stainless steel clad spheres which are connected by escalators and stairs. 3 metre (10 foot) diameter tubes connect the spheres. The central tube had the world’s fastest elevator at the time; allowing people to reach the summit in only 23 seconds at 5 metres/second. The Atomium, was designed to last a mere six months and was slated for destruction after the 1958 World Expo, but due to its popularity it made it a major element of Brussels landscape. A weird piece of history about Atomium is that SABAM, Belgium’s society for collecting copyrights, claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproduction of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS). There are numerous censored images circulating the internet, but finally in 2016 there was a bill enacted to allow pictures to be legally distributed.

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I then stopped for dinner at the same restaurant I stopped at for lunch yesterday; Tonton Garby, before heading to get a new power adapted, because I somehow forgot mine at home. After getting a power adapter I visited the Brussels Comic Strip Museum, and then went to Beer Planet and picked up a few authentic trappist monk beers that were recommended to me.

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I went back to my hotel room to edit photos and write my blog before heading out to take some night time photos of Atomium.

Chicago!!!

Two weekends ago I had the wonderful opportunity to visit my friend Chelsea in the beautiful city of Chicago, Illinois. I spent three glorious days in the Windy City eating and drinking my way through the amazing city, while soaking up the amazing architecture in this metropolis that 9.5 million people call home (2.7 million in the greater Chicago area).

Chicago, the third most populous area in the USA, was founded in 1780 and officially was recognized as a city in 1837. Chicago had a spectacular fire in 1871 which destroyed many homes and left over 100,000 people homeless. This didn’t stop the city from rebuilding and by 1900 the construction boom and population influx left the city as being the fifth most populous city in the world at the turn of the 20th century.

Chicago is now an international hub for finance, culture, commerce, industry, technology, communications, and transportation. It also is a massive destination for tourism, with over 58 million visitors annually!

Below is a handful of the photographs that I took on my weekends adventures with Chelsea. I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet many of her friends while I was there.

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Vietnam – Day 5 – My Son Sanctuary

Today I woke up at 5:00am with an alarm. Why so early? Well today I was heading to My Son Sanctuary; about an hours drive away.

The My Son Sanctuary is a cluster of abandoned Hindu temples that were constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. Champa was a collection of independent Cham societies that extended in roughly the same area that today is central and south Vietnam from the 2nd century until 1832, when Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang absorbed and annexed it.

The temples at the My Son Sanctuary are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. Some of the temples lay in partial ruin. Restoration began in 1937 by the French and ended in 1943. Unfortunately many buildings were again destroyed in the Vietnam War in August 1969 and the surrounding area became dangerous due to unexploded land mines. Restoration began again since being recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1999, with the majority of the money being funded by the Italians and Japanese, as well as some money from the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam.

I had rented a motorcycle from the villa the previous night for 110000 Dong ($6.85 CDN). I set off around 6:00am and stopped at a local coffee shop close to the sanctuary called Café Que Huong (Liberty Café). I had coffee with the owner and took a selfie together. After having the coffee I continued towards the sanctuary.

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Parking at the sanctuary was 5000 Dong ($0.32 CDN). After parking I ate some hand pulled noodles in a chicken broth at the restaurant at the entrance before walking to the electric tram that would drive me to the start of the ruins.

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I explored around the ruins and it was pretty quiet until about 10:00am, when the tourist groups started showing up. I finished walking around the site at around 11:00am and was hungry again so I decided to have more noodles at the restaurant before getting my motorcycle and heading back to the hotel.

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The ride back to the hotel was very hot and the traffic was heavier. It took a lot of concentration and it was pretty slow going. I stopped on the way back to the villa for some more beer and some more Doritos. I spent the afternoon hanging out at the pool.

At around 6:00pm I decided to head into town for dinner. I went to a restaurant called Vinh Hung Restaurant and had the famous local Hoi An dish called Cao Lau Noodles. Cao Lau Noodle dishes typically contain pork and greens, with rice noodles that have been soaked in lye water, from a famous local well, giving them a unique texture and colour that sets them apart from other traditional Vietnamese noodle dishes. To be honest I absolutely love the flavour and texture.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, before riding the motorcycle back to the villa.

Check back tomorrow as I dive head first into a Vietnamese cooking class and take a tour on a traditional Hoi An Basket Boat.

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Vietnam – Day 3 – Hoi An

The next day I woke up at 5:30am. I didn’t realize this at first but I had the whole villa to myself; none of the other 12 rooms were booked. The villa had a restaurant that opened at 7:00am so I waited for the restaurant to open. I had some beef pho for breakfast. I borrowed one of their bicycles for free to ride into the ancient town of Hoi An. I explored around the local market, wandering up and down the streets to take in the sights, including the famous covered Japanese Bridge, which was built in 1719. It was starting to get too hot to bear at around noon, so I rode the bicycle back to the villa. I looked on the weather reports and noticed that it was 37 degrees, but due to humidity it felt like 46 degrees.

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After relaxing by the pool for a bit and drinking a few beers I decided I was hungry so I borrowed the bicycle again in search of food. I settled on a place called Pho Co Hoi An. I had some beef pho and a local beer. I was getting tired so I rode back towards the villa, quickly stopping for some bottled water, a bag of Doritos, and some more beer. The villa had a good supply of bottled water and beer, but I wanted to save some money by purchasing it at the store instead.

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I had what was supposed to be a short nap, but ended up sleeping from 3:00pm until 8:00pm. After waking up I walked into town and went to famous Banh Mi Phuong for dinner. Anthony Bourdain ate there a few years ago and featured it on his television show called Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Banh Mi is a baguette filled with savory meats, spices and a few vegetables such as shaved carrots and a bit of lettuce. To describe the taste of the Banh Mi at this particular restaurant I would say it’s like having Pho in a bun. It was so delicious, and very inexpensive; only 50000 Dong ($3.15 CDN) for a Banh Mi and a beer.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, and watched people floating down the river in the love boats, as well as watch people making wishes with lit lanterns and placing them in the water. It was getting late so I decided to walk back to the villa. It was around 11:00pm by now so it was time for me to go to bed.

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Santorini

I just spent a few days on the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. Santorini’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC.

Accommodation was at Villa Danezis. This luxury villa was rather affordable at $70 CDN per night and is managed by the owners who live on site. The villa has ten beautiful appointed rooms with nice art work, a sizeable outdoor pool, a beautiful patio area, and morning coffee with delicious home made muffins.

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During my stay I rented a car as it was a lot easier than trying to take the local transit, despite it being a more expensive choice. When I was on the island I did the famous Fira to Oia hike in reverse, which took about 3 hours to complete and is rated moderate. The hike takes you through both the ancient districts, and along the mountainous terrain between the two districts, with many beautiful old churches painted in blue and white. All of the “towns” on the islands are now just referred to as districts of Thera (Thira), since 2011 when the government decided to do so.

I explored Oia and Fira in detail, visited the old Akrotiri Lighthouse on the south side, and the ancient towns of Akrotiri and Ancient Thera.

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The ancient town of Akrotiri date’s back to as early as 5000 BC, when it was a small fishing and farming village. By about 3000 BC the community had developed and expanded significantly. Akrotiri continued to prosper over the years with the introduction of paves streets, an extensive drainage system, and high quality pottery and craftsmanship. This all came to an end in 1627 when the volcanic eruption of Thera buried the entire community in volcanic ash. The community wasn’t found again until 1867 when some locals found some old artifacts in a quarry. Extensive modern excavations of the site occurred in 1967 by Professor Spyridon Marinatos. Excavations are still ongoing to this day.

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The ancient town of Ancient Thera date’s back to 9th century BC until 726 AD when it was buried after a small eruption of the volcano of Santorini covered it in pumice stone. The ancient city was re-discovered in 1895 by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen and excavations started to occur between 1961 and 1982, and 1990 and 1994.

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I also ate some of the most amazing food I’ve had in my life. The meat and vegetables are so fresh and the Greek meals are delicious; whether it was traditional Greek coffee, Greek salad, fresh sea food, or vegetarian dishes. Yes you read that correctly, vegetarian dishes! Santorini has vegetarian only restaurants and they serve incredible food; my personal favorite being Tranquilo where I had Greek salad and goat cheese filled hot peppers.

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Another fantastic restaurant that you must visit is To Briki. I had traditional Greek coffee served with old wine grapes soaked in honey, deep fried Greek cheese, and amazing smoked salmon and avocado bruschetta.

Check back shortly for my next blog post where I explore the beautiful city of Zurich!

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Athens!

I just spent the last three days in the city of Athens, Greece. Athens, the capital city of Greece, is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for over 5000 years. Most of the history has occurred within the last 3400 years, with many prosperous moments and many moments of decline. The city was named after the goddess Athena after she won a competition with Poseidon over who would become the protector of the city. The location of the city was chosen because of its mild climate which was suitable for growing food, and close proximity to the Saronic Golf.

In 1400 BC Athens became an important settlement because it was the centre of Mycenaean civilization and housed the Acropolis Mycenaean fortress. Athens suffered destruction in 1200 BC (the bronze age) and went into economic decline for about 150 years afterwards.

In 900 BC Athens again became a leading centre of trade and was rather prosperous. This didn’t last more than a few hundred years before massive social unrest led to the reforms of Solon in 600 BC and the eventual introduction of democracy by Cleisthenes in 508 BC. Athens was also invaded twice (lets call it three times) by the Persians; once in 490 BC (which was unsuccessful) and twice within the same year in 480 BC. The Athenians and Spartans eventually defeated the Persian army in the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC.

The following decades were the prosperous Golden Age, during which time Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece and the start of western civilization. During the Golden Age the Parthenon was built on the site of the Acropolis. Art, drama and philosophy were significantly developed during the Golden Age as well. The Peloponnesian wars between the Athenians and Sparta (yes Sparta turned on the Athenians) eventually brought an end to the Golden Age, but Athens continued to play an important cultural and intellectual center.

By mid 400 BC the Northern Greek kingdom of Macedon was becoming a dominant force and in 338 BC the army of Philip II ended Athenian independence. Alexander the Great made Athens obsolete by the 2nd century BC, and Greece was taken over by the Romans. The Roman’s ruled Greece for the next 500 years, and eventually converted Greece to Christianity and ended the Athens role as the center of pagan learning, and the schools of philosophy were closed in 529 AD, which marked the end of Ancient Athens and Ancient Greece.

The Byzantine’s ruled Athens by the end off 529 AD until 1204, a time of uncertainty and decline, but Athens was able to maintain its strong presence due to the Acropolis fortress. In 1204 the Fourth Crusade took over Athens and the Latins ruled Athens until 1458 when the Ottoman Empire took over.

The Greek Revolution occurred in 1821, and Greece was established as an independent Greek state in 1830 by the Treaty of London and Athens was once again proclaimed the Capital. Population quickly grew after the Greco-Turkish War in 1921 when over a million Greek refugees from Asia Minor were resettled in Greece.

Athens was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. Athens again began to grow as people migrated into the city looking for world following World War II. In 1981 Greece joined the European Union, which was crucial as Athens was in dire needs for an infusion of cash as it was crippled with social and environmental problems. Athens even failed to secure the 1996 Olympics because of its environmental and infrastructure problems, which should have been a huge milestone as it was the 100 year anniversary since the first modern day Olympic Games in 1896!

Since 1996 major initiatives to improve Athens infrastructure have occurred. A new airport has been built, a new metro system, and limiting the use of cars in the city centre to reduce air pollution.

Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games, which were considered a great success, but the facility quickly fell into disarray due shoddy craftsmanship and human destruction.

Greece again has fallen into economic disaster since the 2008 world economic recession, and has still yet to recover.

During my visit to Athens I saw the following sites:

  • 2004 Olympic Stadium
  • Technopolis (A former Coal Gas Generation Site)
  • Ancient Agora of Athens (including Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos and Temple of Hephaestus)
  • Hadrian’s Library
  • Acropolis (including Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, Temple of Athena Nike)
  • Acropolis Museum
  • Kerameikos Cemetery
  • Zappeion
  • Hadrian’s Arch
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • Panathenaic Stadium
  • Mount Lycabettus
  • Communities of Plaka, Psyri, and Thiseio

Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics. What once was a beautiful facility back in 2004 has been thoroughly trashed by humans and left to decay in the weather. I wish we would build a few good quality Olympic facilities throughout the world and then have participating countries pay for upkeep of these facilities rather than financially burdening the cities these are built in. Prior to the 2000’s we could build an Olympic venue for under $1 billion but now the sticker price has shot to $50+ billion.

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The site of Technopolis is an old coal gas plant that’s been converted into a museum and a trendy area with a coffee shop, restaurant, and a place to host events. I love seeing old places like this preserved like this. Coal gas was used to heat homes and for gas lanterns from the last 1800’s to about the 1940’s in many large cities including Athens, and in Seattle (I posted about this one previously. Just look up my Seattle blog. That one was also preserved).

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The Ancient Agora of Athens dates back to 6th century BC and was used as a gathering place. The ruins were found in 1931 and currently being excavated even to this day. Over 20 buildings originally resided on the site, with only two currently standing. The Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos was reconstructed on the east side of the agora in the 1950’s, and the Temple of Hephaestus.

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Hadrian’s Library was created in 132 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The building was built in typical Roman architecture style. The library was severely damaged in the Herculean invasion of 267 AD and wasn’t repaired until 412 AD. During the Byzantine times three churches were built on the site, with some of the remains being preserved as you can see below.

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The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop that towers above the city of Athens at 490 feet above sea level. The citadel houses the remains of many ancient buildings including the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, and Temple of Athena Nike. The Acropolis was constructed over time from the 6th Century BC onwards and was used to defend the city against many wars (see way above). The Parthenon and other buildings were severely damaged during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when gunpowder that was being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded. During the following years the Acropolis had a variety of Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman structures. After the Greek Wars of Independence (1821-1822 and 1826-1827) these structures were cleared from the site to restore the monument to its original form.

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The Acropolis Museum was absolutely fantastic, but sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs except in designated areas. The museum will open up a tour of the archaeological dig site underneath the building starting next year. You can already see the dig site through the glass floor, but it would be amazing to explore them up close and personal.

The Kerameikos Cemetery dates back to roughly to the 3rd millennium BC, but became the site of an organized cemetery around 1200 BC.

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Completed in 1888 in Neoclassical architecture, The Zappeion was erected specifically for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world and used as the main fencing hall. The Panathenaic stadium was also refurbished during this time. It received many different uses throughout history:

  • In 1906 it was used as the Olympic Village
  • Between 1938 and 1970 t was used by the National Radio Foundation
  • In 1979 the signing of the documents formalizing Greece’s accession to the European Community
  • Between 1998 and 1999 it was used as the first hose for the organizing committee (ATHOC) for the 2004 games
  • In 2004 it was used as a press center
  • Today it is used as a conference and exhibition center

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Hadrian’s Arch, also known as Hadrian’s Gate is a monumental gateway that spanned an ancient road from the center of Athens. Built in 132 AD, it is believed that the arch was built to celebrate the arrival of Roman Emperor Hadrian.

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The Temple of Olympian Zeus is a former colossal temple. It was dedicated to the Olympian Zeus. Construction started in the 6th century BC but was not completed until 2nd century AD! The Athenian tyrants building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but this didn’t occur and it took 638 years to complete the project. The temple included 104 columns, and was the largest temples in Greece, but not in the world. The temple’s use was short lived and fill into disarray by 3rd century AD, and slowly reduced to ruins thereafter.

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The Panathenaic Stadium was originally completed in 330 BC and was used as a multi-purpose stadium. The 330 BC creation was made of limestone, but today’s creation (since 144 AD) is made entirely of marble.

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The stadium was abandoned between the 4th and 18th century due to Christianity, and was even buried during this time frame. It was excavated in 1869 and used in 1870 and 1875 to host the Zappas Olympics.

It was then refurbished in 1896 and was used to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and as the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports during that time frame.

It was even used in the 2004 Athens Olympics as a finishing point for the Athens Classic Marathon and the last venue in Greece where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.

Mount Lycabettus provides a fantastic view of the city. €5 will buy you a one way ride up or €7.50 for a return ticket. I decided to ride up and walk down as the funicular only runs every 30 minutes. I had a fantastic lunch consisting of Greek Salad and a Chicken Souvlaki.

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