Edinburgh – The Athens of the North

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Europe may be the second smallest continent in the world, but it is possibly one of the most diverse regions on earth.

The sheer variation in language, culture, architecture and even weather, makes Europe one of the most visited regions in the world, and it’s easy to see why. For modern metropolises there is London, Paris and Barcelona. For warm weather and beaches there is thousands of miles of Mediterranean coastline spanning Spain, France, Italy, Greece and numerous other countries; all with quite distinct historical, cultural and linguistic differences.

But as great as it is to have such massive diversity squeezed into such a relatively small space, it could be argued that there are probably bigger metropolises and better beaches located elsewhere in the world. Indeed, what makes Europe truly special are those ‘one-of-a-kind’ places, and Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is such a place.

Located in the south-east of Scotland close to the River Forth, Edinburgh is often considered to be one of the most picturesque cities in Europe and is certainly regarded as a major tourist destination, attracting around 13 million visitors each year.

But what makes Edinburgh a truly mesmerising city is its landscape and architecture. To realise how stunning a city the Scottish capital is, it only takes a short hike up one of the several hills that the city is built around. Arthur’s Seat, for example, offers perhaps the most panoramic view of the city and is only a mile from the city centre. As an extinct volcano, it consists of rocky crags and basalt cliffs, rising to about 250 metres high and affords magnificent views across the city, with the world famous Edinburgh Castle taking centre stage.

The one striking feature of the Edinburgh skyline is the lack of skyscrapers or any other particularly tall building. This has been a deliberate attempt not to spoil the famous cityscape that has seen both the old and new town districts of Edinburgh listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

And it’s these two districts that make Edinburgh what it is. The medieval, windy streets and alleys of the Old Town sandwiched in between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, contrasts splendidly with the beautiful Georgian architecture and Greek-inspired neo-classical designs that are spread throughout the New Town.

Indeed, the New Town is generally considered to be a masterpiece of  city  planning and is partly responsible for Edinburgh’s reputation as the ‘ Athens  of the North’, which is quite a compliment considering the esteem in which Greek architecture is held throughout the world.

Of course, like any other city in the world there are all the usual activities to keep visitors happy throughout their stay such as restaurants, cinemas, clubs and pubs; ensuring that hotels in Edinburgh are always in great demand.

But in a city of Edinburgh’s breathtaking beauty, these could be considered merely as distractions from the main attractions. It is difficult to think of anywhere else in the world that can compare to Scotland’s capital city, which is why it truly is, one-of-a-kind.

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Enjoyable Walks in the Heart of Athens

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Getting around as a pedestrian in certain cities can be as adrenaline-filled as cliff-diving. Dodging cars should simply not have to be a worry on holiday when relaxation and fun tend to take priority. In the lovely bustling  city  of  Athens , a welcome refuge from such unpleasant stress can be found on the Grand Promenade in  Athens . Closed to automobiles only a few short years ago, this pedestrian haven is filled to the brim with some of the best historical sites  Athens  has to offer. On this elegant pedestrian route, you will encounter marble temples, neoclassical museums, and ancient theatres. Of course, all the while you will be casually circling the Acropolis.

A great starting point is the Temple of Olympian Zeus located next to the National Gardens. This colossal temple took centuries to build. Completed in no less than 700 years by Hadrian in 131 A.D., it maintained its complete structure until a rogue storm in the 19th-century took out some of the columns.

On the southern side of the Acropolis, you will find the Theatre of Dionysus. This is the theatre that welcomed the dramatic arts as they are known today in existence in 543 B.C. It also served as the first forum for the plays of Sophocles, Aristophanes and Euripides in their day. The nearby Roman Herodes Atticus amphitheatre is closed to visitors except during the summer  Athens  festival when attendees can view its form and structure up close. If you decide to follow the marble walkway up to Filopappou and Hill of the Muses, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Parthenon and the Athenian skyline. From this promontory, you will be able to see as far as the Saronic Sea. With views like this, your camera may run out of memory space before you manage to pull yourself away and on to your next destination.

After such a hike, you may need a breather and possibly some refreshments. For that, your best bet is Apostolou Pavlou where you can sip espresso or perhaps some ouzo at a lively bouzouki club or quaint outdoor cafe and even take in a film at the Thission cinema. For a slow return into modernity, you can also check out the multimedia exhibits at the Centre of Traditional Pottery and the recently minted New Acropolis Museum. With this much culture and history to experience, the question isn’t what to do but, how to fit everything into one trip!

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Holiday & Travel Guide For Athens, Greece

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Sightseeing

The incredible city of Athens, home to the ancient Gods and what a city to explore. The history and myths of this land are truly amazing, but be warned, the heat can sour to well into the 30’s during the hottest months of June to August so make sure you carry plenty of water and cover yourself from the scorching heat whilst touring the magnificent ancient ruins of Athens.

Let’s start with the Acropolis site, as this is what most tourists visit Athens for. These magnificent buildings are said to date back to the 4th century BC. The Parthenon building was originally constructed as a Temple, it has since then been a church and then a mosque. This building is easy recognised by anyone around the world, its vast size is jaw dropping and no amount of pictures that you have seen will prepare you for the true enormity of this site. Also, there are the ruins of a great theatre, that had once been used in the Roman times for gladiator fighting, nowadays the theatre is still used but for the more gentile performances of Ballet and other concerts. After you have spent most of the day exploring the wonders of this ancient site and listening to the myths that surround it from the guides, you will probably need a good rest before you prepare yourself for more wonders, along with the many museums full of ancient relics. Children as well as adults will love the Children’s Museum and for those that love music, there is also a Music Museum, then a Greek Folk museum. Actually, there are quite a few museums and all of them are worth of a visit along with the art galleries. You can’t miss the day tour to Delphi, to marvel at the ancient sanctuary of Apollo or the magnificent monuments and bronzes in the museum. For those who want another cultural trip, visit Cape Sounion where the 5th century temple of Poseidon stands, then the famous theatre of Epidaurus in Argolis. There is so much to see you may be better off hiring a car so you can do the tours at your own leisure and cut down excursion costs.

Shopping and eating

You will have a great time shopping in Athens modern town, with a multitude of shops to choose from, but the best place to visit has to be the old town “La Plaka” with its narrow pedestrian streets and quaint shops. You can spend hours searching for your ideal gift or souvenir in any one of the shops, as they are crammed full of delightful items, like jewellery, paintings and copies of ancient relics and buildings. There is something for everyone; you won’t leave the old town without purchasing something. If your feet are tired then there are plenty of cafes for you rest up in and have a well earned drink, and more than enough restaurants in the old town that serve a variety of meals from moussaka and stuffed tomatoes to filled baguettes, snacks and delicious pastries. For those looking for more international foods then the modern city centre would be the place to find it, as well as most of the glitzy nightlife of the city.

Happy Holidays

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The Political Polarity That Was Athens and Sparta

Around 800 B.C.E. the Greek populous started to coalesce into communities which were called poleis. The polis was a city state with its own governing body and typically a military. Each polis varied considerably from other poleis. A polis could have anywhere from one thousand to tens of thousands of citizens between its main urban center, and its surrounding towns and agricultural developments. The poleis of Sparta and Athens were two of the largest and most powerful city states in ancient Greece. These two poleis were also among the most competitive, mostly with each other, and influential in the ancient Greek world.

Athens was a largely agriculturally based polis in Attica, off of the Aegean Sea. It was dependent on slaves to do the manual labor of the polis, from working the fields, to working in the homes of Athenian citizens. Athens was a democratic city state whose society revolved around politics, as it was the primary day to day activity of the male citizens. Athens hosted a powerful navy which was influential on more than one occasion for fighting off Persian invasions.

Sparta is in most ways the opposite of Athens. Sparta is also heavily dependent on slaves, or ‘helots’ as they are called. Helots primarily work the land which was conquered by Sparta for agricultural production. Sparta is a highly militaristic polis, having its entire society based around warfare. For more of the antiquity of Greece than any other polis, Sparta maintained the definitive hoplite infantry force in Greece.

The attitude of both of these great poleis was vastly different. Athens was the sophisticated, innovative, and cultured democratic polis. Sparta was completely militaristic. It was traditional, simple, and straight forward. At birth newborns in Sparta were judged as being big and strong enough to become a Spartiate warrior, or a child was judged incapable, and it was left in the mountains to die. At age seven children were taken into state-run educational systems where men were trained for war. Athens young men were largely dedicated to battle, not to the degree of Sparta, but there was a large factor making up for this fact.

Pericles, an Athenian Strategos, had urged the married women of Athens to bear more children. Athens population was much greater than Spartas to begin with, and had a much larger birth rate. Spartiates were to get married between age twenty and thirty, but until age thirty, they were to remain living in the barracks. “Men living in the barracks were only permitted to meet their wives surreptitiously-a fact that may account in part for the notably low birthrate among Spartiate couples.” To compete with Athens, Sparta’s’ militarism was necessary to keep up, but they did even manage to surpass the Athenians land forces.

Both poleis had forms of government to match their respective differing attitudes which further high lights the polarism of these two city states. Spartan government is made up of two kings, of equal power, each with their own royal family and line of succession. Under them is a council of twenty-eight elders, who put issues forward for a strictly ‘yes’, or ‘no’ vote, with no discussion, by an assembly made of all Spartiate warriors over thirty. There was also five ephors, who were elected officials with the task of supervising the educational system, and to protect the traditions of Sparta. The ephors had the power to remove a king from command if necessary. If anything, the Spartan government, and society overall was primarily static, and compared to such a polis as Athens who was a quickly changing and open cosmopolitan city state, Sparta could be called stubborn.

Athens’s form of government changed from time to time, but primarily Athens was ruled by nine Archons who exercised executive power in Athens. They had one year terms, and once their term was over they were lifetime members of the Areopagus Council. The council had a large influence on the judicial matters of Athens. This council was the party responsible for electing the Archons. The political atmosphere in Athens did change considerably, because of its open and democratic nature, and more than one politician caused political reform. Politics and discussion went hand in hand. Athens also hosted some of the most well known philosophers in history, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, which were all very political thinkers.

Athens and Sparta were two fundamentally different city states functioning In the same ‘country’, which at times could have been said to not have been big enough for the two of them. With each polis striving to expand outside of Greece, as well as each trying to control the various smaller and less powerful poleis of Greece they were fierce competitors. This elicited more than one armed conflict, including the twenty-seven year long Peloponnesian war. Though on a few occasions Athens, Sparta, and various other unfriendly poleis banded together to fight invading Persians, the two poleis were both too fundamentally different, competitive, and patriotic to allow any strong unity between them beyond peace and trade treaties. They both existed as communities adapted to survive independently from other city states, and when their interests merged either it was to protect Greece itself from foreign powers, or it meant conflict as they fought over resources and other goals.

Seven Things to Do in Athens, Greece

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 Athens  is best known for its role in classical history and for the tourist this is still the primary appeal. Other Greek destinations have overtaken  Athens  in promoting the nightlife and beach holidays, but  Athens  still reigns supreme for its history and tradition. However,  Athens  is also a modern  city  and the capital of Greece, so it still offers plenty more than just the ancient ruins of its glorious past.

Here is a list of seven of the more popular sights and activities for tourists visiting  Athens :

  • The Acropolis. This has been the heart of  Athens  from antiquity and remains so today. The Parthenon, a massive marble temple in the center of Acropolis, is visible from almost everywhere in the city. The Acropolis actually has more than this and is a whole complex well worth exploring in detail.

  • Plaka. To get a sense of the modern city, visit the Plaka district. Full of souvenir shops, small cafes, restaurants and other local attractions, this is where you should go to get a feel of modern  Athens  and its people.

  • Psirri. This district has been fully renovated since the 2004 Olympics and is now the  center  of the  Athens  nightlife. If you want to find a party, head on down. The Gazi district is also happening, but is more popular with the gay scene.

  • Anafiotika District. To get a feel for the real city and escape the tourists in Plaka, visit this district. A maze of tiny, winding streets and alleys, this is more like the real  Athens  and is very picturesque.

  • National Archaeological Museum. This is an absolute must for those interested in Greek history and features the largest collection of ancient Greek artifacts anywhere. These come from all over Greece, not just  Athens  and Attica.

  • The Agora. Outside of, and below, the Acropolis, this was the marketplace of ancient  Athens . Some of the ancient buildings still stand and some of the newer additions are quite notable in their own right.

  • Delphi. Along the same theme of ancient Greece, you can take a day trip from  Athens  to visit the ruins at Delphi, home of the famous Oracle. The organized tours are expensive, so consider just renting a car and going on your own.

Modern  Athens  is still a dynamic  city  in its own right, but no one denies that the primary tourist draw is the ancient ruins. For history buffs this place is wonderful while for others a brief visit will probably be satisfactory.

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Athens Gay Bars

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Athens is a large city and is the largest in Greece; it is also the capital city of Greece. In Athens there are no laws against same sex relations and therefore there is a large range of gay bars and clubs. You can expect to have a great night out in Athens with your friends.

Athens is a large city and there are a few areas which are most popular for the gay community but the majority of the bars are spread throughout the city center. Baby’s Graffiti for example is a great gay bar which is very popular with the locals. Conne is another bar which is popular and is located on Persefonis Street. This Athens gay bar is open from 11.30pm until 4am most nights and has a very mixed crowd. This is a great place to meet people and you are likely to enjoy the culture of this bar too. They play good music and also some Greek music too.

Another exciting Athens gay bar is a place called Fairy Tale which is a lesbian bar situated on Koletti Street. This is open from 10pm daily except Mondays. You can expect a mixed crowd but it’s mainly female. They have Greek music throughout the week and Live Music at weekends. You can expect a great night here with your friends. Another popular venue is a place called Kazarma and this is a great place to boogie. They have a huge dance floor and are open late expect Monday and Tuesday when they are closed.

Browse our online directory now for a complete listing of Athens gay bars!

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Athens, A Trip To Antiquity

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Anyone who studies the classics or has a unique interest in history of philosophy should venture to the great metropolis of  Athens . The first step in planning such an adventure is obtaining a US passport. After that feat is accomplished then  Athens  is only a plane ride away.

Passports

Passports have been around for quite a while, they originated in France and then the US picked up on them. They became valid travel documents permitting travel to foreign lands. They are required today in order to travel to another country. They used to be somewhat difficult to obtain, now through technology and the internet they are readily available as well as ll the other passport services that may be needed.

 Athens 

 Athens  is named after the warrior Goddess Athena. She is the patron deity of this ancient thriving metropolis. Greek myths of the clash of the titans versus Olympic Gods have permeated literature and other aspects of world culture. There are very few people who are completely unfamiliar with any Greek myth. History books are full of ancient epic battles involving the Athenians and surrounding ancient peoples.

Sites

There are many sites to visit in  Athens , each rich with history and culture. The Parthenon is perhaps the most famous of the Athenian ruins. Its is the temple to Athena that stands on the top of the great hill, or Acropolis. There is also Syntagma Square, The National Archaeological Museum, and Mount Olympus. These are just a few of the many sites that  Athens  has to offer.

Parthenon

The Parthenon is one of the most famous sites of  Athens . It is atop the hill, Acropolis. This structure was built in honor of the great Goddess Athena who was the cities deity. The Parthenon has had many uses since it was temple to Athena. It has been a church, a Muslim mosque, and was even a munitions depot when the Turkish occupied Greece. Through all that it has remained almost in tact.

Syntagma Square

Syntagma Square is the central of the  Athens  business district. Syntagma translated means constitution. So it is constitution square, where government buildings are and fountains and even Greek guards. Syntagma Square is where all major filming and photo shooting is done in Greece.

National Archaeological Museum

The National Archaeological Museum is the countries largest museum. It was originally constructed to hold the excavated finds from the nineteenth century, but since then it has grown. It now holds over 11,000 exhibits from Ancient  Athens  and beyond. The items featured range from pre-historic collections to the Bronze Age and also feature items from Egypt as well.

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3 Star Hotels in Barcelona Centre

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Barcelona, as one of Spain’s most important and largest cities, offers the visitor an abundance of cultural things to see and do. Famous sights include the impressive Sagrada Família, the bustling Ramblas, several outstanding Gaudí buildings and a good selection of museums and galleries. Also, a rather unique characteristic of the city is the fact that it also lies on the coast and offers the rarity of sandy beaches and sunbathing; an ideal situation for those looking for culture as well as a bit of sea-side relaxation.

Of course accommodation will play a relatively large part in how much you enjoy your visit. A 3-star hotel will usually provide at least the minimum in the services and amenities expected for a comfortable and relaxing stay. Like many major cities, there is a good choice of 3 star hotels in Barcelona. They can be found all over the city, but for convenience it would probably be best to stay in a hotel in or close to the city centre, so that you can easily discover Barcelona on foot, even though the city’s public transport system is both cheap and efficient.

The centre of Barcelona is quite compact, making it viable to explore on foot. Furthermore, the centre is well connect via the city’s comprehensive metro network. In the centre you will find the Cathedral, Gaudí’s La Pedrera, the main shopping centre, some of the city’s best restaurants and cafes and many of the museums, such as the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, Picasso Museum, the Maritime Museum and much more.

The following Barcelona hotels are well located in the city centre, one near Plaza Catalonia, one close to the Sagrada Família and the other directly on the Ramblas.

3-star Hotel Gran Ducat Barcelona: This hotel is a modern place to stay and run by friendly, professional staff. Located just off Plaza Catalonia, you will be close to where the Ramblas begin and where the city’s main shopping area can be found. There are 64 good-sized guest rooms in total, all en suite, air conditioned and well equipped with today’s mod cons.

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Acropolis – The Religious Centre of Athens

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There are two characteristic hills in the Attica Basin: Lycabettus, the higher and steeper of the two, and the Acropolis, at an altitude of about 150 m. above sea level, on the slopes of which spring waters still flow. It is on account of these springs that the rock has been inhabited from the neolithic age on.

The first walls were built in about the 13th century BC, when the townships of Attica federated into a city-state under Theseus. Then the inhabitants, having already acquired some power and wealth, needed to have safe havens to which they could withdraw in the event of danger. Later generations called this wall “Cyclopean” because only the giant Cyclops, they believed, could have moved the huge boulders which can still be seen in trenches in front of the Propylaea and the temple of Athena Nike. The distinguished archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos used to say that this myth of the Cyclops may possibly have originated from the foreign masons brought in to build the wall, who may have had large round eyes.

When the Pelasgians arrived in Attica from Thessaly, they built a second, curved wall, outside the first, on the entrance side, indicating how turbulent those years were. In this way the entrance, always on the western side of the Rock, led through a narrow passageway between successive walls, under the massive bastion where the temple of Athena Nike now stands. The military architecture of the period created an impregnable citadel on the highest edge (akro) of the city (polis), which became known as an acropolis. On it, and close to the present site of the Erechtheion, the first kings chose to reside, having first arranged for a a secret passage to be hewn into the rock for emergencies.

After the kingdom was abolished in 682 BC, only shrines and altars remained on the rock, with one small exception: in the 6th century, Peisistratus, with the arrogance of a genuine dictator, lived high up on the acropolis with his sons, probably for security reasons. This was regarded by the public as a kind of sacrilege, and did not happen again. Besides, all the buildings were destroyed when the Persians conquered Attica, leaving only ashes behind them, just before the naval battle of Salamis in 480 BC and their final defeat at Plataia a year later.

The rebuilding of  Athens  began, the age of its greatest glory, as its leaders vied for the distinction of who would construct the most public buildings for posterity. It was Kimon who levelled the devastated temples and used the rubble to build ramparts on the rock, in which we can still see the enormous drums of earlier columns incorporated. At about the same point, parts of statues and votive sculptures were found, some of which are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum. All these were damaged during the Persian attack and buried in order to enlarge the plateau; this was necessary for the brilliant new temples which were to be built. From then on, the Acropolis was exclusively a place of worship, dedicated always to a female deity whom the Greeks called Athena, the Romans Minerva, the Byzantines Panaghia (all Holy Virgin) and the Franks Saint Mary of the Citadel. This expresses the same human emotions and hopes for the future; only the names changed as circumstances evolved.

The traveller Pausanias gave us a detailed description of the Acropolis as he saw it in the 2nd Century AD. Like any good tourist, he travelled throughout Greece, writing about whatever he saw and heard, leaving behind valuable texts for archaeological research. He made observant notes on buildings, building materials, votive offerings, altars and cult statues, adding myths and tales told by the various “interpreters” on the sacred sites, i.e. the guides of his period.

During the Middle Ages, many people visited the Parthenon, which by then had become a Christian church. But in the general indifference, nobody mentioned the buildings lying in ruins around it. Only Kyriakos from Ancona – a fanatic traveller, possibly a spy, but certainly a lover of antiquity-arriving in  Athens  in 1436, was dazzled by the beauty of the temple with its wonderful columns and unique carved marble. These were natural feelings, for he was an educated man who studied the ancient authors and bought codices wherever he found them: a forerunner of future dealers in smuggled antiquities. He, too, failed to mention any Frankish alterations to the Propylaea.

Kyriakos was the last Christian visitor to the Acropolis. Just a few years later, in 1456,  Athens  was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who did not permit any non- Muslim to climb up to the citadel, where the local aga and the Islamic notables lived. Houses were built of the ancient pieces of marble and the temple of Athena and the Panaghia became a mosque. There is just one description written in 1641 by the Turkish traveller Evliya Celebi, who journeyed throughout what was then the Ottoman Empire and with a journalist’s observation mentioned anything that came into view, though often inaccurately.

A few years after Celebi’s visit, the beautiful temple which was then being used as a powder magazine, exploded after being shelled by the Venetian Morosini, who intended to blow up the entire Acropolis, but stopped because of the expense and time which the operation would have entailed. Damaged, but at least saved, the Acropolis was once again inhabited by the Turks, who knocked down the Temple of Wingless Nike and incorporated the seats from the Roman Odeion into the ramparts. It survived the war of Independence, saw battles, changed hands at least twice more, and at long last was taken by the Greeks.

But then new dangers began to threaten the long- suffering rock and its vestiges of past glory. The rebuilding of the village of  Athens , which became the capital of the newly constituted state solely because of its glorious past, was undertaken by various architects from Europe who came in the wake of the uninformed young King Otto, and cherished some strange ideas. One of their innovations was the blueprint for a grandiose palace on the Acropolis, in the style of the times; fortunately, it was never built. Equally fortunately, the proposal that the Kapnikarea Church be torn down, because it impeded the view of the sea from the newly built palace – the present day Parliament building- received no support.

But there were also many positive things happening on the Acropolis at that time: the excavation of the outer Propylaea (monumental entrance) with its ramp and steps, the recovery of the beautiful little temple of Athena Nike from the Turkish bastion, and the removal of the houses which the Ottomans had built on the Acropolis, some traces of which are still visible today. The Parthenon and the Erechtheion were restored using as many of their pieces as could be found. Many wonderful statues with elaborate coiffures and lively smiles, frozen in the passage of time, saw the light after being hidden for 23 centuries under the foundations of the temples. The sacred rock of Pallas Athena diffidently revealed its years, experiences and sufferings, like a magic, unbroken thread.

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