I’ve been dreaming about traveling to Greece since I was a little kid. Stories about “ancient anything” always caught my attention (insert: obsession with Jurassic Park and Noah Ark’s here). The early Greeks have fascinated folks around the world not just for their early adoption of democracy, whimsical philosophers and awesome architecture…it’s their ancient mythology filled with humanized tales of awe inspiring gods and a mystical afterlife which have been satisfying storytellers for centuries.
TBEX Conference in Athens
When I found out that TBEX would be hosting their next travel blogging conference in the Greek capital of Athens I was thrilled to hop over the Atlantic. It would be my second speaking gig at the conference, taking the stage last June at TBEX Toronto chatting “Taste of Place: Defining a Destination Through Its Food Culture.” This time around I’d be speaking in the commerce track as an Ambassador for Rough Guides, “How to Monetize Your Culinary Content.” I crafted my presentation via a case study approach, highlighting four brands, each of which operate in a different industry: Canada Beef (agriculture), Canon (tech), Pilsner Urquell (beverage) and Rough Guides (publishing).
I was thrilled to be speaking at the TBEX conference in Athens as an ambassador for Rough Guides. As I was putting my presentation together I did a bit of research and found that TBEX, Greece and Rough Guides share a few memorable moments. Best to start at the beginning…
In the summer of 1981 two Brits met in Greece and while travelling around the country couldn’t find a guidebook that remotely met their needs. On their return to the UK, in a bid to avoid getting “real jobs,” the duo and a small group of writers set about creating their own guidebook series that aimed to combine a journalistic approach to description with a practical approach to travellers needs.
Today over 35 million Rough Guides have been sold around the world featuring over 200 destinations via guide and phrasebooks. More recently in June 2013 the Rough Guides team was in attendance at TBEX Toronto. At the conference they asked travel influencers “What do you think is the next hot travel destination?” The overwhelming response was Myanmar (Burma). Based on feedback at the conference Rough Guides sent out an explorer to put together the publishers first guide for Myanmar which hits bookshelves in February 2015! It’s great to see the TBEX conference acting as a space where brands can ask real questions and answers are put to good use.
I knew I would be busy as a bee in Athens with only three days at my disposal to enjoy the conference as well as explore the city’s essential tourist treats. Before departing on my trip I took notes in my Pocket Rough Guide Athens and skillfully planned a full day of sightseeing which would have me zig-zagging across the city on foot. The following are a potpourri of my favourite moments in Athens at TBEX. It’s amazing what one can explore in a short amount of time especially when you plot out your fun in advance.
I arrived in Athens from Santorini and took the quick 40 minute train trip from the airport to my hotel. After a quick change I rushed down the stairs to hop on a bus bound for the Vorres Museum. G Adventures would be hosting the TBEX Speakers Reception that evening at one of Athen’s most stunning art galleries, and probably the most overlooked by visitors. The museum sprawls over six acres and is divided into two main sections: the museum of contemporary Greek art and the folk art museum, both of which house collections that cover at least 2500 years of Greek history. Art fans really do have to be dedicated to make their way here as its in the city suburbs and off the tourist trail. It’s well worth the jaunt if you are keen on exploring off the beaten track and there is no better way to be greeted than by flutes bristling with bubbly. That evening we lulled through the museums wild gardens and nibbled on Greek tapas while stars twinkled above. Sweet memories of art and al fresco.
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens is the largest archaeological museum in Greece and one of the most important museums in the world devoted to ancient Greek art. The place is paradise for history buffs, Greek gurus and anyone who appreciates an athletic male nude. Although the museums original purpose was to secure all the finds from the nineteenth century excavations in and around Athens, it gradually became the central National Archaeological Museum and was enriched with finds from all over Greece. Its abundant collections, with more than 11,000 exhibits, provide a panorama of Greek civilization from the beginnings of Prehistory to Late Antiquity. Enjoy a stroll through over 8,000 square metres of exhibit space while gawking at ancient jewellery, pretty pottery and awe inspiring heroic nudes.
The city’s newest attraction is the state of the art Acropolis Museum which opened its doors in the summer of 2009. The museum was founded to exhibit all the significant finds from the Sacred Rock and its foothills. Located in the historic Makryianni district, the museum is situated 300 meters south of the Acropolis and covers a total area of 25,000 square meters. The visual link between the Parthenon sculptures exhibited in the museum and the monument from which they originated is achieved through the transparent, glass outer walls of the Parthenon Gallery. Visitors are treated to breathtaking views of the Acropolis as they stroll through the space but your best bet is to enjoy lunch on the cafe terrace. I found myself running into the museum as thunderclouds boomed and rain swept itself across the city. While the Acropolis Museum offers a refuge on inclement afternoons, it is also an excellent opportunity for visitors with mobility issues to tap into the history of the Parthenon.
Once the rain let up I skipped along wet cobblestone streets to Athen’s most visited tourist attraction. The Parthenon is a former temple on the Athenian Acropolis, dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. A visit to the Parthenon feels as though you are getting a tour of the United Nations as folks from all over the world gawk with glee. Last year I had an opportunity to walk through the ancient ruins of Ephesus in Turkey and felt a similar sensation, giddy with goosebumps as I wandered through ancient city streets. Be sure to strap on sturdy shoes as the hike is a rigorous climb, but worth the effort as the views from up top offer an awe inspiring 360 of the city.
The official TBEX Opening Night Party was hosted at Technopolis by the City of Athens. Upon arrival I was greeted by an enthusiastic marching band while pretty bartenders served up ice cold pints of Alfa brew. Technopolis is an industrial museum and major cultural venue in the Gazi neighbourhood of Athens. It has been in operation since 1999 and is situated in the city’s former gasworks which were founded in 1857. Attendees wandered through three distinct buildings in the massive complex: concert stage featuring local Greek bands, performance and installation art showcase and a bustling exhibit space offering sips and nibbles of the city’s top food and beverage offerings.
TBEX celebrated its final evening in Athens via al fresco street stroll at the city’s quirky Pandrossou Market. Attendees spilled out of the subway and marched through the market which is made up of winding streets flanked by family owned shops. It’s hard not to smile as local merchants wave you into their wee shops offering up sweet baklava and urns overflowing with ripe wine. Further up the street craftsmen showcased how they widdle their woodwork while a glowing pastry chef offered lessons in how to prepare almond adorned confections. At one point I was holding a glass of beer in one hand while devouring an oozing slab of moussaka, licking my lips before running down the street to join a crowd that gawked at soprano Cellia Costea from the Greek National Opera. The evening truly was a joyous occasion and while I know TBEX attendees got a kick out of the party it was the gobsmacked tourists who had no clue what they had walked into that made my mug smug.
My flight out of Greece departed at 6am (an ungodly hour) so was thrilled to have the opportunity to check into a suite at the Sofitel Airport Athens. I actually counted the number of steps it took me to travel from the hotels entrance to the airport and it clocked in at an amazing 39 steps! I relaxed that evening by packing up my luggage and indulging in a warm bath via Hermes beauty products. I flopped into my comfy king sized bed and found myself bright eyed and bushy tailed 7 hours later. Grabbing my luggage and rushing into the pitch black early morning I waved salut to Athens and whispered “see you next time.”