Athens: 19 Hours in the Greek Capital

The tallest hill in Athens, spelled Lykavittos or Lycabettus.

ATHENS, Greece — I spent about 19 hours in Athens this spring, not long, to be sure, but worth the layover just the same.

I traveled from New York on Air France, flying for the first time on the world’s largest passenger airliner, the A380, on the New York-Paris portion of the trip.

The statistics are impressive. The plane is 239 feet, 6 inches long, 79 feet, 1 inch tall and has a wingspan of 261 feet, 10 inches. It carries a whopping 81,890 gallons of fuel.

Built to accommodate passengers on two decks, it can be configured with a three-class layout accommodating 555 passengers. In an all-economy configuration, it could take 840 passengers.

When boarding, I could see the staircase to the seats on the upper level, but once in my place on the first level, the travel experience was much like being in any other widebody aircraft.

One unique feature, however, was the surprisingly nice bathroom. It was small, but seemed like a tiny version of a sleek hotel bathroom.

Acropolis Museum

At the dramatic entrance to Athens’ new Acropolis Museum, visitors walk on the glass that protects and reveals an archaeological dig below their feet.

In Athens, I joined a number of other travel press, and we made the most of a short visit with the help of a very effective tour guide, Natasha Koliakou. It was already after 2 p.m. when we launched our visit.

We headed straight to one of the newest attractions in town, the Acropolis Museum (which replaced an older Acropolis Museum), opened in 2009 and situated below the Acropolis itself.

The museum is fantastic, a thoughtfully designed modern four-story building that houses the treasures collected from the top of the Acropolis.

We entered by walking across very thick glass, which protects an archaeological dig visible below. Also, one section of the dig is walled but open to the sky for better viewing.

Some of the dig is visible under glass sections of the floor inside the museum, too. At one point, curators showed us a traditional offering for the gods through a glass section of the floor. And, in places, lower museum levels could be seen because of see-through floors higher up.

Displays include the originals of five Caryatids, referring to the pillars in the shape of women that were created for the Erechtheion temple.

Because another Caryatid resides in the British Museum, designers of the Athens facility created an empty position in the Caryatid display and await the hoped-for return of the sixth figure.

(Up on the Acropolis, the porch roof on the Erechtheion is still supported by pillars; they are exact replicas of the Caryatids.)

The gallery on the museum’s top floor displays at full length the Parthenon Frieze, a bas-relief in marble of a huge procession. The blocks are about three feet high, but once extended to 525 feet end to end. About 80 percent of that survives. However, more than half the blocks in the Acropolis Museum display are copies because large parts of this

The cafe on the third-floor terrace of the Acropolis Museum.

Taken together, however, the original marble sculptures plus the replicas form a mind-boggling display.

Before departure, we stopped at the outdoor cafe on the third floor for new views of the Parthenon — which was only about 1,000 feet away — and at the city’s tallest hill, Lykavittos (or Lycabettus, depending on the source).

Natasha told us that while Lykavittos is the tallest of the hills, the ancients preferred the second highest, called Acropolis which means top and city, because it had a natural plateau and a source of water at its foot.

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