Back in April of 2023 we first got the mad notion to take some sort of prolonged trip overseas. After much discussion, one place emerged as the favorite "must see" destination - Athens, Greece. Neither of us had been before, and it seemed like a good place to launch a tour of Eastern Europe.

We would start with a week or so in Athens, take a ferry to the island of Mykonos for a couple of nights, and then then move to Thessaloniki, the next largest city, to get an idea of Greek life away from the major tourists spots. From there we would hop across the Aegean to stay a week in Istanbul.

After that, we planned shorter stays in Vienna and Prague, possibly with a day trip to Budapest, before going to spend almost two weeks exploring another country on both of our radars - Croatia.

Then we would head home. However, when looking for flights back to the US, I stumbled upon a really cheap flight from Croatia to Barcelona, Spain. Why not spend a week in Barcelona too, before crossing the Atlantic? It was in the general direction of home, after all.

Then when looking at flights from Barcelona to DC, I found that TAP (the Portuguese airline) had a decent rate with one stop in Lisbon. Moreover, they offered a discount on the flight if we did an "extended layover" of 2-7 days in Lisbon! So naturally, we decided to spend four nights in Lisbon before the final leg back to the US.

So we ended up with a nine-week long mega-journey. We had all of the plane reservations, AirBnBs everywhere but Prague, where we would take advantage of American Express points to stay in a luxury hotel. Now all we had to do was wait for September, when our journey would begin!

Now since this was such a complicated schedule, and with so much time for stuff to go wrong before we started, we also decided to buy Trip Interruption/Cancellation Insurance. This cost us about $1000, but as we will see, it turned out to be a wise decision.

Enough foreshadowing, it is time to take off for Greece!

The best flight we found to Athens left Newark airport just before midnight. To get to Newark, we took advantage of some American Airlines miles we had accumulated, and booked a $22 flight for the two of us from our local airport in Knoxville.

It meant we would have an epic travel day (or two), since our flight left Knoxville just after 11am for Charlotte. Then a four-hour layover before the next leg to Newark, which would arrive about 6:30pm. So we would still have over five hours before our Emirates Air flight for Athens would take off.

Well, at least we wouldn't be rushing around.

Long story short, we left Knoxville about 11am Thursday and arrived in Athens at 4:30pm local time on Friday - about 36 hours later.

Still, we felt pretty good! Our ride was waiting for us at the Athens airport, we easily checked into our first AirBnB in Athens, and we were able to walk just a block and a half to find a nice outdoor restaurant for dinner and a convenience store to pick up supplies for breakfast.

What better first meal in Greece than a Greek Salad? ...... and whatever this was. Some kind of lamb meatball, I believe.

The next morning, oddly refreshed in spite of the long travel, we set out to walk to our first objective. We had been careful in picking our AirBnBs to be close to the attractions we wanted to visit. In Athens, we were within a couple of miles of the major sites. Our target for the day, Lycabettus Hill, was only about a mile away, so we jauntily set off.

Unfortunately, it was almost all uphill the entire way.

Now we knew we were going to a hill. Lycabettus is actually a little higher in elevation than the Acropolis. In fact, most of the pictures you've ever seen of the Parthenon were probably taken from Lycabettus. So we knew part of the path would be uphill. On the nice, flat map we used before we started walking, we could see that there was a funicular that would take us to the top, so we weren't too concerned.

What the map didn't show us was that we would have to conquer about half of its 907 foot altitude on foot before reaching the funicular. This involved steep hills, and multiple sets of stairs in the rapidly warming morning.

Rita making her way up the last few sets of stairs. You can see in the distance how high we have climbed.

Finally, drenched in sweat, we arrive at the station, and took the funicular up through the mountain to the summit. Almost. There were still several flights of stone steps to deal with.

The funicular

Once we were at the top, the views were just as spectacular as advertised.

The money shot

The next day we were up early, and off to one of the few guided tours we had signed up for - an early morning pass to visit the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. Our thinking was we wanted to get up the hill before it got too warm, and also our tour guaranteed us tickets. This turned out to be wise, because we saw people being turned away at the ticket booth as we entered, since they restrict the number allowed on site.

On our walk to the meeting point, we passed the old Olympic stadium, and the ruins of the Temple of Zeus. It's really hard to walk in any direction in Athens and NOT see some piece of history.

In front of the Temple of Zeus arch, with the Acropolis in the background.

After meeting our guide, we were led onto the site and began the long climb to the top. Along the way there is plenty to enjoy, and we appreciated that our guide took several breaks to explain what we were seeing, and to allow everyone to catch their breath.

The old Odeon, still hosting concerts

After 45 minutes or so, we were finally joining the crowds on the final steps leading up to the Acropolis.

Almost to the top of the hill

Finally, there we were, at one of the most iconic historical sites in the world, the Parthenon. I have to say that in spite of the damage, it does not disappoint.

The Parthenon is not the only site on the top of the Acropolis, of course. There is also the Temple of Athena, the goddess that gave the city its name.

These six ladies holding up the roof are not the originals - we would find them later in the museum.

We were given plenty of time to wander around the Acropolis, soaking in the experience, before we were led back down the hill by another route and into the Museum and some blessed air conditioning.

While interesting, we weren't particularly impressed with the layout and displays in the museum. I admit they are hampered by the fact that much of the Parthenon has either been destroyed or has ended up in the British Museum. We did run into those six ladies inside.

The originals were moved to the museum to prevent further damage and decay.

It was a full morning, and we were more than ready for a treat for lunch. We found it by visiting the Plaka district, right next the the Acropolis.

Entering the Plaka District- restaurants, shops, and more

Hard to imagine a more picturesque place for lunch

That's right, another Greek salad!

Excellent moussaka!

Exploring the neighborhood

Our wanderings about led us eventually down to the outskirts of the old Agora, which we planned on visiting later. Athens is wonderfully walkable, and there was something new to see around every corner. Like for example this group of buskers.

All of this, and only our second day in Athens! More to come in Part 2.

Follow the adventures of Jim and Rita in real time as they try out the roving retirement lifestyle on the podcast "Travels With Jim and Rita