After Santorini we flew back to Athens, conveniently meeting up with Jie's parents at baggage claim. They are joining us for our last 17 days in Europe and we timed the flights to arrive in Athens within 30 minutes of each other. Given we are now a group of 5 this makes taxis a bit problematic, an issue we immediately experienced in Athens as we had to take two separate cabs from the airport. We managed to all arrive at the airbnb at the same time, though, so it worked out. (Well, aside from Walter's apparent freakout in the taxi with Jie's parents...all this time alone with Jie and me is having an effect.) Our airbnb unit was close to the Acropolis and in a nice spot with nearby restaurants, and even had a rooftop deck we could walk up to see the Acropolis lit up at night. Unfortunately, when we tried to do so the door jammed shut behind us leaving us trapped on the stairwell. Jie had the presence of mind to test the door, so she was stuck on the inside while we were outside. Compounding matters, there was no way back around to the front of the building if you went all the way down the stairwell. (Clearly building codes are one of a long list of laws that are not enforced in Athens.) Fortunately, Jie went all Macgyver on the door with a butter knife and got us back in!
We made the most of our one full day in Athens, taking in the Acropolis and the Agora in the morning before stopping for a late lunch. Even this late in the season the tour group crush was unbelievable, though the staff at the Acropolis did a much better job than most sights of keeping everyone moving and not letting people block key pathways or stairs. After lunch Jie's parents and Walter went back to the apartment for a break while Jie and I took in the Acropolis museum. The museum was enjoyable, just more proof in line with Santorini's museum that we haven't really come that far in the last several thousand years. The next morning I picked up our rental, an aging, slow, but functional Fiat Doblo, and we headed out of town to Delphi.
Delphi, as you probably remember from junior high, was the site of the Oracle of Apollo, key soothsayer about 2500 years ago. Both the ruins at Delphi and the museum were impressive, but after a while your head starts to hurt at the effort of imagining what each pile of ancient rocks looked like back in its day. The same was true in Mycenae, near Nafplio, which was our next destination in Greece. Nafplio was about a 3 hour drive from Delphi, but thanks to the sheer power of the Doblo we managed to make it in about 4.5 hours. Of course, that did include a highway pitstop where Jie and Walter played air hockey and we picked up lunch to go from a restaurant that clearly doesn't understand the 'fast' in fast food.
Nafplio is a coastal city in the Peloppenese, which is the same part of Greece as the site of the first Olympics. And as mentioned above, it was also close to Mycenae, which I really wanted to see as it's the city-state that led the Greek states in the war against Troy. Indeed, the Myceneans were the dominant Greek civilization after the decline of the Minoans of Santorini and Crete. But it was not to last, as Mycenae suffered it's own mysterious decline and kicked off ~1000 years of dark ages before the rise of Athens and Sparta and all that history we've forgotten so well. There were some extremely impressive engineering feats in Mycenae, including one funeral vault with a 120 ton stone used as the lintel on the entry way. That's roughly 4x the stones used to build the pyramids, and it was in a building approximately 4000 years old. For reference, 120 tons is about the weight of an adult blue whale, and heavier than a B-52 bomber.
Overall, my takeaway is that unless you are incredibly passionate about history you should limit yourself to 1 or 2 major historical sites and instead focus your time on the islands. Of course, this is what almost everyone does. I just had to do the opposite and learn that lesson for myself. On the plus side, we had some really good meals in Athens, Delphi, and Nafplio. Several times we hit on very local-feeling spots, and I think those are the ones that we'll really remember.