Our second day in Athens, Greece started off really great. The sun was shining and before we checked out of our rental apartment we spent time lounging on the deck looking out at the Parthenon. We then rode the fabulous Athens metro to Syntagma Square. The Athens metro system is super impressive! It is clean, well signed, and many of the stations have exhibits showing archaeological finds that were unearthed when the metro was built.
We arrived at Syntagma Square just in time to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Then it was off to the National Gardens where we spent the next several hours playing on the wonderful playground and exploring the winding paths. While not as big as many other city parks that we have visited, the National Gardens of Athens was a big hit with the kids. The playground had some really interesting elements, and the park as a whole was clean and full of lots of other families out having fun.
Unfortunately our luck went downhill from there as we battled the crowded streets to get back to the Acropolis to visit the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus. When we finally arrived at the site we found that it had closed. Seeing it was a Saturday we were shocked that they closed so early in the day, but we had read that with the economic downturn in Greece many sites had to cut back their hours. Five of Hearts really wanted to see these ruins, so we headed back to the Areopagus where we could get a good look at them from afar. While it wasn’t the same, it was the best we could do, and the boys enjoyed another chance to climb around the rocks.
From there we tried to brighten the mood by heading to Falafellas for some pita and falafel sandwiches. This place was highly recommended by vegans as being a great dinning option in a city that isn’t necessarily very vegan friendly. When we neared the location we saw a line of 15 people waiting to order at Falafellas street food counter, and we knew that this place had to be good. Of course all the rave reviews were correct and we can now encourage other lovers of falafel to visit this great establishment. A very yummy dinner was followed up by one last walk through Syntagma Square to enjoy the fountains lit up for the night.
Back at the Larissa station our day ended on a very sour note. We were all exhausted and anxious to get on our 11:55 PM train to Thessaloniki. When it was finally time to wait outside at the platform we were all ready just to climb aboard and shut our eyes. That is when we looked down the track and watched dumbstruck as a group of 20 to 30 men wearing black face masks approached at a run shouting loudly. Some of the men then began punching people in the crowd. The action was so sudden that we only had time to shove the kids to the ground and lay on-top of them right there on the platform. Almost as fast as it began it was over and the mob of men dispersed and just then our train arrived. We hurriedly climbed aboard and locked ourselves into our compartment to begin comforting our three very tired and very upset kids. They were afraid of what had just happened and rightly so. Mostly we reassured them that they were all right, while internally trying to convince ourselves that all was okay. As we settled them off to sleep we talked about how we simply found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. We take great cares to avoid dangers while traveling, but what we had just experienced was a random act that can’t really be avoided. We also tried to stress how we can’t let it affect our fond memories of Athens or categorize the city as a whole. During our short time in Athens we met some truly wonderful, friendly, and courteous people. While we all vowed to keep our pleasant memories of Athens at the forefront, it will likely be a long time before we aren’t a bit jumpy around large groups at train stations.