Dispatch, Greece: History and luxury

By Kate Rice

Travel Weekly’s Kate Rice is on vacation in Greece with her family. Her first dispatch follows. 

My husband and I are traveling with in Greece with our mad-about-Greek-history-and-myths 12-year-old, Gavriela.

She has impressed the professAthens-View Acropolisional tour guides we've hired; one has offered to hire her as his assistant.

Gavriela fell in love with the Greeks in second grade, when she picked up her big sister's school books about the Greeks. Now she's studying them herself in school and reading still more on her own.

That means, when our flight touched down in Athens, she told us how Athena beat Poseidon in the quest to become the city's patron. (Poseidon struck his trident atop the Acropolis and a saltwater spring gushed forth. But Athena won with the gift of the olive tree and pottery. And, points out Gavriela, the Athenians became a great sea power even without Poseidon).

At breakfast in the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Grande Bretagne, we gazed at the Acropolis and talked Pericles (who built the Parthenon) and Persians.

Gavriela curled her lip at the Persians, who thought they could easily overcome Greece and make their way to Europe, an arrogant miscalculation that cost the Persians multiple defeats and freed up the Greeks to lay the foundation for Western civilization.

But Gavriela isn't just interested in the ancient Greeks; she's also digging contemporary Athens. She loves our suite in the Grande Bretagne, a hotel in StarwooAthens-Grand Bretagne poold's Luxury Collection, and upon our arrival, she promptly parked herself on the balcony overlooking Constitution Square. There, she can watch skateboarders and strollers, sparkling fountains and café-goers, and see the changing of the guard in front of Parliament.

Only the promise of a quick tour of the Grande Bretagne and its sister hotel, the King George right next door, lured her away.

Each is a beautiful hotel in its own right. Gavriela's finely tuned design aesthetic means she can quickly differentiate the two: the Grande Bretagne is more golden, the King George more creamy. She likes the Grand Bretagne better, but it could be due to the fact that it has not one, but two, pools; a full spa; and a hair salon. And there's also those balconies.

We spent our first afternoon wandering the neighborhoods at the base of the Acropolis, the Plaka and Monastiraki. Gavriela got to see the ruins of an entire Roman market or Greek agora (open marketplace) up close.

The streets are packed with tourists, even though we are still a few weeks away from the start of the true tourist season (2014 is up 15% over 2013, which was up 35% over 2012).

We settled down for a meze of meat and fish, and watched a parade of people and peddlers pass by. All had to squeeze aside for the occasional sightseeing train trundling down the pedestrian pathway, along with the odd motorbike.

Just beneath us, running between our bustling restaurant row and the reconstructed Greek stoa (basically, the ancient Greeks' version of a shopping center) in front of us, runs an actual train. Its cars are covered with what, to my New York eyes, is classic 1970s graffiti of bubble fonts and geometric patterns. It's street theater of the absurd.
Athens-GrafittiTrain-KR
The sun set, the sky darkened and a nearly full moon rose above the Acropolis. Interior lights illuminated the Ionic columns of the Parthenon as well as the Temple of Hephaestus farther down.

We walked the still-packed streets of Monastiraki and Plaka back to the hotel. I was thinking of an ouzo or retsina at Alexander’s Bar, but instead ended up in the pool with Gavriela.

After one last look from our balcony over Constitution Square, we closed the doors, drew the curtains (by pressing a button) and went to bed.

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly. 

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