The view from the patio of a sixth-floor room at the Hotel Grande Bretagne provides a quick summary of the city. High in the distance is the legendary Acropolis, and some distance below it is a great, glowing Coca-Cola sign.

Athens ... a glorious, ancient city, with art and architecture. Athens ... a vibrant, modern city, with discos and daredevil drivers. Both aspects are much in evidence during a brief visit - a visit in which the images linger:Syntagama Square, symbolic center of the city ... where the Parliament Building stands majestically and where men in white skirts, pleated blouses and boots with pompons enact the high-stepping changing of the guard every hour. ... where the cavalcade of cars seems ceaseless ... where the pleasant cafes with their outdoor tables now include a McDonald's.

A drive to see the sights, passing poster after poster advertising that Sinatra is coming to town. Other signs proclaim that Macedonia is Greek, always was and always will be. A stop outside the Presidential Palace to marvel at the guards who stand so motionless that they seem not even to blink. One learns, though, that there is plenty of motion in their lives - they run in the hills three times a week. Off to Philopagos Hill for a view of the Acropolis and the city - a view so entrancing that a visitor misses a step and goes sprawling, apparently injuring no more than his pride.

Then the Acropolis itself, where the distractions don't matter. Not the sales pitches for souvenirs nor the multilingual chatter of guides nor the clicking of cameras ... not the haze on the horizon nor the scaffolding on the Parthenon. Here is the place from which so much sprang - history, art, culture and the stirring of democracy. Standing amid the marble and the monuments, it is impossible not to be moved. At the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum - where the greatness of the sculptures and murals endures - the feeling intensifies that the gods did indeed look down on Greece.

On to the Plaka, just east of the Agora, or ancient marketplace. Here in the old town, the winding streets are streaming with strollers and souvenir shoppers. A tourist is being taught by her companion how to say "thank you" in Greek: "You say efcharisto. Just think of a man named F. Harry Stowe."

At the Plaka flea market, every conceivable object - and a few inconceivable ones - is on sale. T-shirts depict everything from ouzo to octopus. One shop is selling a miniature Parthenon that houses a pink light and is perched on a Doric pillar. Open-air stands offer pistachio nuts and bars of coconut. From a radio somewhere, a Beatles song is heard, followed by an announcer discussing Yannis and Giorgos (John and George) and the other Beatles. The afternoon speeds pleasantly by.

Nighttime in the port of Piraeus. Sitting at an outdoor table at Zorbas restaurant, with the sea and the sailboats creating a scene worth painting, a group of visitors at first feels a mite sad. It is, after all, their last night in Greece, a country they have come to love. But it is hard not to be cheerful here with the scrumptious seafood and fine wine and visits from people selling everything from flowers to light-up yo-yos to lovely lacy cloth. Two musicians go from table to table, playing old folk songs. When they get to the visitors' table, they recognize that it is an Amerikanos group and switch to their US-tourist number: "Never on Sunday."

One of the group surveys the scene and announces to his companions, "It's a shame we have to go home." But then he adds in his best Humphrey Bogart voice: "We'll always have Piraeus."

Almost at once, one of those companions glances up from a plate of calamari and replies, "Here's looking at you, squid."