Nearly every “traveling with a toddler” article emphasizes the importance of managing your expectations, and I couldn’t agree more. We used to land in a city with a come-what-may attitude—no particular itinerary or schedule, just a list of things that might be interesting to check out. But underneath that free-form agenda was the expectation that we would see and do a certain number of things. Now that we have a toddler, we have to be a lot clearer with ourselves and with each other about what we want out of a trip.
First and foremost, of course, we want Veeru to be safe and reasonably happy, which is more demanding outside the systems and routines of home. So when we visited Athens for a long stopover on our way from Philly to Muscat, we had just two goals (aside from the primary be-decent-parents goal): (1) get over jet lag and (2) see the Parthenon. This seemed more than reasonable for a 4-day trip, and I’m happy to report that we did those things and a few more! Here are some highlights, in roughly chronological order.
Airbnb on Praxitelous
The Airbnb we chose was in Monastiraki, near the metro, with windows on all sides looking out onto the neighborhood and a terrace view of the Parthenon. Knowing that we would be home for Veeru’s 7:30pm bedtime each night, having a place where we could hang out and feel that we were still in Athens was important. The view was, as promised, incredible.
I was a little nervous about the flat, however, because one of the reviews noted two fairly serious drawbacks: the blinds did nothing to block out the light in the morning and the loud church bells started at 6:30am. Both of these things are great for getting over jet lag, but that’s the thing about getting over jet lag: The fastest and most effective way to do it is also the most painful.
Here’s the beautiful, noisy church.
The natural light definitely helped reset our clocks, and it was nice to have Athens all around us while we putzed at home. (We supper-n-Skyped one evening.)
Veeru never did sleep before 8 pm because it was so bright in the flat, but ultimately that was a reasonable price to pay for such amazing scenery.
We’ve always enjoyed happening upon a nice public park in our travels, but now that we have Veeru, we’re like greenspace-seeking missiles. The National Garden in Athens is large and busy enough for decent people-watching without being chaotic. The gravel paths are not great for strollers, but the point was to let Veeru walk around so it didn’t matter much.
There’s a little zoo with some peacocks and goats and this turtle pond.
Veeru took his midday nap in the stroller, and we enjoyed a quiet lunch on nearby Tsakalof Street, which is closed to traffic and lined with restaurants and pubs.
We headed back to the much-lauded playground at the National Garden, but alas it was closed for some reason. So we enjoyed the tree-lined promenades. The jacarandas were just starting to flower.
Who needs playground equipment anyway?
National Archaeological Museum
Our Airbnb host pooh-poohed the archaeological museum, probably because it’s in a relatively grimy (but not dangerous) neighborhood. That’s not really a deterrent for us, so we went ahead. The longish walk was made longer by a wrong turn, but we like long walks.
The plan was to tire Veeru out in this open space in front of the museum and then look at the exhibits while he napped.
This didn’t work, probably because of the morning’s long stroller ride. He was definitely tired but refused to sleep. By the time he settled down and closed his eyes, we needed a sit-down ourselves. The museum cafeteria is in this lovely little garden in the center of the building.
We did rally and look at some of the statues and vases and so forth. I’m used to archaeological museums displaying a shard of something here and a snippet of something there, but this place had tons and tons of fully intact artifacts—so many that I started to wonder if ancient Greece was… less ancient than I thought. (It was, in fact, quite ancient.) Anyway, after seeing 20 examples of one style of vase, it’s kind of cool to see how they differ from the style of vase that was popular for the next couple hundred years. And the next. And the next.
Okay, maybe that’s why our Airbnb host wasn’t calling this place a must-see. Still, I’m glad we went. It was interesting as a whole, if the details were a bit repetitive (though still impressive for being so old), and the grubby grounds outside were charming.
This Pedion Areos park is very close to the National Archaeological Museum, and I might’ve forgotten we went there at all except that apparently I took a ton of photos.
It’s not as well-kept as the National Garden, but Veeru did not care in the slightest.
He enjoyed throwing rocks and, as we were leaving, finding new ways to ride in the stroller.
On the way back to our neighborhood, there was a lot of interesting street art.
Our outings focused mostly on the area south of our Airbnb, so it was nice to branch out north a little and see some variety.
We used to avoid guided tours like the plague, but things have changed, and for something like this, it’s worth it just for the line-jumping privileges. (Next thing you know I’ll be rationalizing a Caribbean cruise….)
Veeru took an abbreviated nap that ended as soon as we started up the hill, so he was strapped to my back and squirming whenever I stopped walking. I paced back and forth at the periphery of our group while the tour guide explained that this was the world’s first theater.
I didn’t catch much more of what the tour guide said on the way up, but Karan got a lot out of it. This was his pick, so that was fair enough.
It was blustery at the top but the views were spectacular…
And of course, the Parthenon itself is pretty incredible.
I will readily admit that I was not looking forward to this adventure, and I would’ve been relieved—though somewhat ashamed—if we had decided to skip it. Veeru doesn’t like to be confined, and if I hadn’t kept pacing, his squirming would’ve been unbearable. All in all though, it wasn’t too bad. Veeru did not enjoy himself, but he did not pitch a fit, which is impressive for a person with virtually no impulse control.
This is not the first family selfie at an internationally renowned tourist site where Veeru looks unimpressed.
Karan took over Veeru-toting duties for the descent.
So I could take a couple more photos.
It did feel like Veeru had given us a pass after several days of running around in parks, as though he knows that we’ve turned our travel habits inside out and upside down to accommodate his needs and preferences. Maybe?
Here’s Veeru with sweat-and-sunblock-stung eyes, listening to a dulcimer at the foot of the Acropolis.
On our first night in Athens, we wandered around Plaka in a jet-lagged stupor and then had supper at a restaurant in a cobblestone square near the Metropolitan Cathedral. There was space for Veeru to run around, so we took turns amusing him while we ate our meal.
The Agios Eleftherios Church sits in the cathedral’s shadow.
At the end of each day, when we were fried from touring but Veeru still needed to run around before bed, we came back to the cathedral so he could run up and down the ramp.
Or climb on the lion.
We never even went inside, but when I think of Athens, I’ll always think of how this place was safe and familiar.
These trips, though fun and interesting, are kind of like an endurance sport. There are moments in the midst of the exertion when it feels like why? why? why? do we do this to ourselves?! But looking back, it’s clear that it was definitely worth the trouble.
I was a bit more aware than usual of how different it would be if we were still traveling as a couple of barflies. The nightlife there is robust, from what I could hear from the terrace, and the ubiquitous sidewalk cafés looked so very relaxing. But that’s for another traveler, or perhaps another visit!