Jasper National Park

Two weekends ago my girlfriend and I took a little weekend trip to Jasper, Alberta. Jasper is situated in Jasper National Park, which is located in the Canadian Rockies. Jasper was established in 1813 as Jasper House and was a fur trading outpost for the Hudson’s Bay Company on the York Factory Express trade route. Jasper National Park was established in 1907. The town of Jasper saw the arrival of the railway in 1911 with the railway siding being added by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (now CN Rail).

On the drive up we stopped numerous times to take photos along Highway 93 North (Icefield Parkway). We also stopped at Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and Columbia Icefields.

Our stay in Jasper was fulfilled by Sawridge Inn, which has a day spa, pool, hot tub, and sauna. They went above and beyond to accommodate us and we really appreciated the hospitality.

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Revisiting Peru

In 2014 I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the beautiful country of Peru with my father. I have quite a few friends visiting Peru in 2019/2020 so I figured I’d write a blog post describing my travels from what I can remember. I’ll explain via Q&A format as that’s probably the most palatable format for most people.

Do I Need a VISA?

If you’re visiting from Canada or the USA then you do not require a VISA.

How Long Should I Go For?

I recommend 10-14 days for a first time visit. We went for 10 days and it felt like the right amount of time, although some people may find that rushed. My father and I are go-go-go people so 10 days felt perfect.

What Vaccinations Should I Get?

There are no mandatory vaccines required for entry into Peru, but its recommended that you get Hepatitis A & B, and Yellow Fever (depending on the area of travel). I only had Hepatitis A & B when I travelled. I also recommend you bring Dukoral because I was the unfortunate victim to “muddy butt” (self explanatory) on the last day of my travels because we ate at a local restaurant that had food that came in contact with contaminated water. Let’s just say I had a very unpleasant week after that…

How Do You Get To Peru From Calgary?

The easiest way to get to Lima, Peru from Calgary is one of two ways:

  • Calgary to Lima via Houston on United Airlines. Typical costs range around $1000-1200 for economy class.
  • Calgary to Lima via Dallas on American Airlines. This is the route choice that we chose. Typical costs range around $1000-1200 for economy class but business class tickets can be had for as little as $1200 in our case if you hunt around. South America is an anomaly for cheap business class tickets for some reason; sometimes business class tickets can be had for the same price, if not cheaper due to lack of demand. Remember the more open seats the cheaper the airfare is; once seats fill up the prices usually start to increase.

Once you get to Lima you’re more than likely going to want to head to Cuzco, which is operated by LATAM. LATAM is a Chilean holding company that operates the largest airline and subsidiaries in South America. LATAM operates in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru.

What Is The Weather Like?

In general Peru is pretty mild year round. I found Lima to be muggy in mid June despite it’s mild low to mid 20°C temperatures. Cusco and the Sacred Valley (including Machu Picchu) I found to be t-shirt weather during the day, and sweater weather at night. In fact some evenings in the Sacred Valley approached near 0°C at night!

What Should You Visit In Peru?

First time visitors will definitely want to head to the following locations (all followed with pictures)

  • Cusco
    • Cusco is a city in southeastern peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. The city has a population of just under 500,000 people and is located at an elevation of 11200 feet (3400 metres). I highly recommend bringing some altitude sickness pills if you suffer from altitude sickness. I don’t usually get hypoxia or altitude sickness so I did not require these pills. Cusco was the historic capitcal of the Incan Empire from the 13th to 16th century Spanish conquest. Cusco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and it definitely is deserving of this heritage title as there are manly beautiful architecturally significant sites around the city. I highly recommend exploring the local markets.

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  • Machu Picchu
    • Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. This is the main attraction in Peru. Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and later abandoned. It’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views.
    • To get to Machu Picchu we took the “Sacred Valley” PeruRail train from Urubamba to the base of Machu Picchu, where we boarded a tour coach to take us to the top of Machu Picchu.
    • When at the base of Machu Picchu I highly recommend exploring the base city as its filled with amazing markets, affordable accommodation and great food.

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  • Urubamba
    • Urubamba is the largest town in the Sacred Valley region of southeastern Peru. It is a busy transportation hub and sits on the Urubamba River, surrounded by rugged mountains. There is a popular market selling fresh fruit and vegetables and also pots, pans, and other essential items. The market does not really cater to tourists, but we chose to explore it anyways. We aware of people wanting money for taking photographs. I managed to get a picture of a badass Llama wearing sunshades!

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  • Sacsayhuaman (pronounced Sexy Woman… I’m not kidding)
    • Sacsayhuaman is a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire.

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  • Maras
    • Maras is a town near the city of Cusco in the Sacred Valley of southeastern Peru. It’s known for the Maras Salt Mines, thousands of individual salt pools on a hillside, dating back to Incan times. West of the town is Moray, an Inca archaeological site on a high plateau featuring a series of concentric terraces.

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Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to go for a nice Sunday drive with my friend Brenda. Brenda and I met just over a year ago on a Grizzly Bear Tour done by Classic Canadian Tours. I had the wonderful opportunity to go on this tour with my mom and happened to meet Brenda on the tour. I highly recommend Classic Canadian Tours for once in a lifetime handcrafted Canadian experiences. You can check out their tours on their website here. You can see my blog post about that trip here.

Since then we also went on another Classic Canadian Tours trip to see Polar bears in Churchill (also with my mom). You can see my blog post about that trip here:

Fast forward to last weekend when we decided to go for a drive in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. We drove over 300 kilometers looking for wildlife, but unfortunately had no luck finding any wildlife. We did manage to get some fantastic landscape photos though. I was testing out a new camera, a Canon EOS R, to potentially replace my aging Canon 1DX, but the camera has some shortfalls so I will be hanging onto my Canon 1DX for the perceivable future.

After our road trip we stopped for a beer at Hard Knox Brewery in Black Diamond. I had a delicious IPA and Brenda had a Honey Brown Ale.

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Check back next weekend when I head on a weekend getaway to Jasper with my girlfriend.

Jungfraujoch

On the last day of my Africa / Europe trip I visited the beautiful mountain saddle called Jungfraujoch situated in the Bernese Alps. Jungfraujoch connects the two peaks of Jungfrau and Monch and is situated at an elevation of 11371 feet (3466 metres) above sea level.

I started my day off by being picked up by Gray Line Tours at Zurich Central Train Station at 8:30am. The tour coach drove to the beautiful city of Interlaken via a quick stop in Lucerne to pick up people, which is also a very notable place to visit in Switzerland. In Interlaken we stopped for a quick coffee and bathroom break before continuing onto Lauterbrunnen, where we boarded a cog-wheel train to take us to Kleine Scheidegg. The train ride up from Lauterbrunnen was amazing as you could see the nearly 300 metre tall Staubbach Waterfall that towers over the entire town. This town seems like it is something out of a fairytale.

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Once we reached Kleine Scheidegg we switched cog-trains to go to Jungfraujoch. Once we arrived in Jungfraujoch  we toured the “Top of Europe” building which includes several panoramic restaurants, tunnels, the Sphinx (one of the highest astronomical observatories in the world), and a viewing platform. The tour lasted approximately 2.5 hours at the top and was one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever seen. I have to admit when I first arrive in Jungfraujoch I was feeling some mild hypoxia effects having come from Zurich only a few hours before and gaining nearly 11000 feet of elevation gain.

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We returned on a cog-train at about 3:30pm to Kleine Scheidegg and then took a different cog-train to Grindelwald, another beautiful town situated in the Bernese Alps with a beautiful crystal-clear river running through the middle of it. In Grindelwald we boarded our tour coach to take us back to Zurich, via Lucerne to drop off some people.

This day, albeit an expensive one ($350 CDN), was completely worth it and a very magnificent experience. I highly recommend going to see Jungfraujoch.

Stay tuned for my next adventure which will be quite soon!

Zurich

The next stop on my three weeks of travel was the beautiful city of Zurich, Switzerland. I spent two days here, with one of the days being a side trip to Jungfraujoch, but more on that later.

Accommodation was at the ibis Airport Hotel. The cost was reasonable at $70 CDN, although the rooms were rather simple, but the beds were comfortable.

Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city at 408000 people. Switzerland has a population of 8.2 million people. Before we take a look at Zurich let’s look at a bit of history of Switzerland and how Zurich came to be.

Switzerland’s history is rather young. Switzerland was inhabited by the Gauls Raetians and was under Roman rule in the 1st century BC. The Gallo-Roman culture was combined with German influence during 235-284 AD time period. The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons (similar to states or provinces). Other localities joined the original three cantons over the years. The Swiss Confederation became independent of the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. The constitution of 1848 replaced the confederations with a centralized federal government. This constitution was modified again in 1874. Switzerland’s sovereignty and neutrality have long been honoured by the major European powers and the country was not involved in either of the two world wars. Switzerland did not become a European Union member until 2002, but maintains its own currency.

Zurich has an extensive tram network that would make many other cities jealous. The trams run every 6 minutes and are very punctual. This keeps traffic extremely light in the city as most people take public transport. Other cities that I have visited that have had great success with trams are Amsterdam, and Melbourne. Two cities that I’ve visited that used to a great tram network before the 1950’s rush to build automotive highways were Auckland, New Zealand and my home town Calgary, Canada. The mayor of Auckland even ordered the removal of some of the tram lines in the middle of the night! It’s a shame because these two cities are absolutely plugged with traffic.

Zurich is an extremely wealthy city, and Switzerland is also an extremely wealthy country with a large population working white collar jobs such as Google (3000 people in Zurich alone), fine quality jewelery and watches, chocolate, and banking and finance.

Zurich straddles both sides of the Limmat river and has many bridges that offer fantastic views, and a beautiful viewpoint from Lindenhof Park. Another wonderful spot for photographs is Grossmunster church, a Romanesque-style Protestant church, which was built between 1100 and 1220 AD.

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Check back shortly for the final installment of my trip; a trip to Jungfraujoch, a notable saddle in the Bernese Alps, connection the two peaks of Junfrau and Monch.

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!

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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