Athens, Greece

Posted By on Jul 17, 2014 | 0 comments


Please also see the photos from Athens, Greece.

Well, the adventure has begun. Jess and I landed in Athens, Greece last night at 6pm and I embarked on what I hope to be a life changing journey.

From the start

The Travel
The road to this point, in terms of planning, was scarce. We just sort of decided to travel 2 months ago and, other than a text to a friend outlining where I want to visit (which turned into my Europe Itinerary blog) and a reservation at our first two hostels, we really just hopped a plane and headed out.

Calgary had a decently long security line-up (For which I forgot my Nexus card, leaving me to wait with all the schmuks. haha. Kidding, I love you all. But seriously…). Jess met up with me just as we were boarding and I could tell this would be a ‘flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants’ kind of trip, which is exactly what I was looking for.

After a quick 3.5 hour jaunt over to Toronto we switched planes. We got a little bit turned around and had to ask for directions a few times but managed to find the tram that took us over to where we needed to be. We walked over the +15 to find a new security line that looked like it had just about everyone that lived in Toronto in it. It was daunting but at this point I knew it was only a microscopic portion of the trip as a whole and embraced it as part of our adventure. Here I applaud Toronto (which rarely happens) for being so great at dealing with crowds. The 20 switchback line flew by in about 45 minutes and soon enough we were sitting at our next gate.

The flight from Toronto to Rome actually went by pretty fast. One other lady and I had the same isle seat listed on our ticket so the man switched me to a window, which i was pretty happy about. I managed to grab a few cat naps against the wall when the little italian grandma wasn’t chatting me up and soon enough it was dinner time.

I had ordered a vegetarian meal that ended up being like an indian butter chicken but with tofu. When I was choosing the alternative meal options online there were about 70 kinds of diets but no regular ‘vegetarian’ option. There was kosher, eastern vegetarian, budist vegetarian, I-only-eat-peas vegetarian, rice-when-it’s-raining-and-flour-when-it’s-not vegetarian, I’m-just-scared-of-the-airplane-meat vegetarian, and so forth. I actually don’t know if ANY of those were options, aside from kosher, but I remember staring at a huge list and hoping for the best. It turned out alright. I also got some interesting potatoes and orange slices.

After a few more cat naps and a handful of back aches breakfast showed up. I got a vegetarian breakfast that had a blueberry muffin and apple sauce. I was pretty happy. That is, until everyone else got theirs. With a yogurt and a croissant, they were doing better than I, and then I noticed they had an Oreo cookie! Is there some sort of animal product in the cream? Some cow bones ground up to get the right consistency? Well… I would not be surprised… but I wanted an Oreo! So whose idea was it to leave the vegetarians off the treat train? I was not impressed.

The flight crew must have been on their last day of working 10 straight weeks because every one of them had a perma-scoul. To be fair, the kids across the isle were obnoxious and felt it was their right to drop all of their garbage on the floor, stare at it, and then continue sticking their soccer-star stickers to the emergency information card. They were about 10. So I too had a perma-scoul when I looked over at them.

Finally we landed in Rome – the second stop of our three plane adventure. I have to say that one plane is a necessary evil, two planes is the poor persons necessary evil, but 3 planes… that should be wished upon anyone. By the time we got off the second plane I was popping gravel like candy to save the person next to me from a horrible situation.

We went through Roman customs where the man asked for my passport. That is all. No ‘how long are you staying’, ‘where will you be visiting on this trip’, ‘are you a mafia drug lord’, ‘Will you give me your first born child so I will let you pass before you break a sweat’. Nope, he just asked for my passport, gave me my beloved travel stamp, and sent me on through.

We found our next gate, hopped our next plane, and landed in Athens, Greece 2 hours later.

 

 

The Hostel

A little bit scared about the dirty smurfette hanging above the beds in our hostel in Athens, Greece.

Dirty Smurfette

We grabbed our bags and headed out into the street to REALLY start the adventure. Thankfully the hostel had sent Jess directions so we jumped on the bus they mentioned (X95) and took it all the way to Syntagma square. It cost 5 euros (For all future travellers, I would recommend the Metro instead. It is only 1.20 Euros and is a straight shot to the Syntagma station).

We wandered around looking for ‘number 30′. That is what the directions said. “look for number 30 and turn right on Psdfiafjoasdifhsdhf street’ (Or at least that’s how it looked to us). We asked a few locals and no one had a clue. Finally a cab driver recognized the street and pointed us in the right direction. With a left, a right, a left, a turn around, a run in with a lamp post, and another right, we made it. Hotel Dioskrovros.

It was probably the sketchiest room I’ve ever seen. With a dirty picture of Smurfette bent over and touching herself and an illuminati poster that said “DON’T TRUST ANYONE’ we lay our bags down and hoped we would survive the night. Ok. Maybe that is a little dramatic. I guess I was just put off by the green room with purple frame and the random sink in the corner. The light did not flicker, so we were safe there.

 

Exploring – Plaka
We had asked a couple of girls at the hostel if there was any food around to which they responded ‘Nothing. Only a small bakery around the corner’. Bakery sounded fine to us so we headed out to the streets.

A few blocks down we stumbled upon Plaka.  That was convenient. I had been wanting to walk through this area since I had found it on a few ‘top 10’ blogs. Those girls had clearly not found it because there was food left right and centre. People shoving cards into our hands, waving us over to check out the menu, and wafting the smell of food our way.

The Tzatziki and Bread we got from the adorable restaurant in Plaka, Athens, Greece.

Tzatziki and Bread

We weaved through the streets looking at all of the trinkets, wishing that everything was not so mass produced, and wiping tears away every time a stray dog crossed our paths. Eventually we found a place that looked perfect and sat down to a traditional tzatziki appetizer and chicken souvlaki for dinner.

{But wait? Aren’t you a vegetarian Sarah?

A restaurant in the streets of Plaka in Athens, Greece.

Plaka Restaurant

Why yes loyal reader, yes I am. However, before this trip I told myself that I would order 1-2 traditional dishes from each city I visit. If that place happened to be known for a meat-related entrée I would let myself try it. But only 1 per city. So that was my 1 for Athens. I want to fully immures myself into my travels and experience all that each city has to offer.}

It took about 45 minutes to get our bill (which we found to be the norm) and once we did finally wave the server down he brought us a complimentary desert. Still no bill. The desert was fine. A cake with jam and cream cheese. Not my favourite combo, but I had a couple bites. And eventually we were able to pay. We left a 20% tip because we are still not comfortable with the ‘no tipping’ concept in Europe but I am sure when money is getting tighter we will adapt.

Back to the hostel for a great night sleep with the air conditioner on and a wool blanket, my favourite.

 

 

Exploring – Acropolis & Ruins
This morning we woke up at 7am to a room as bright as the sun (or so it felt). The hostel came with complimentary breakfast which was french toast baguettes and tea. I had about 9 french toast pieces (ok… maybe 11).

We asked if we could keep our bags in a locker while we were gone (as the website said there were some) but were told to just ‘leave them by the TV”. We were not really comfortable with this but really had no other choice. I locked our bags together to at least make it more difficult for the robber (unless he had a knife to cut the strap… so really I did nothing). Jess even took the liberty to put a chair in front of them. Clearly a chair of protection with a strong defensive forcefield.

We wandered over to the first ruin we saw. I did not read the sign but did see that we had to pay, so skipped it.

A little bit of our adventure on the south slope caves of the acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Caves on the south slope

Meandering through some winding roads and then a straight shot up to the Acropolis we got to a ticket booth. 12 euros got us in to see 6 different sites (and yes… that first stop we skipped was one of them…). We decided to walk the South slope, which turned into the East slope, and then the North slope. Turns out if we had just gone left we would have missed the hefty walk and headed straight into the Acropolis. But I would still recommend the long way. There were some neat little knooks and plaques and a cave or two you could walk through. It also had some great views of the city.

We made it around to the Acropolis and, in turn, the entirety of a Princess Cruises customer base. The place was packed. Asian tourists everywhere. We waited our turn to take pictures the first few times as not to get in anyone else’s way (as Canadians do) but after about 20 minutes we were pretty sick of people pushing their way into the spot we were waiting for. So. After I nestled myself right int he middle of their shot, they finally waited THEIR turn as well.

We moved up the walkway to the Parthenon in a fashion not unlike cattle (goodness knows my dad would have been mooing at this point) and made it to the top. It was quite impressive. Not that I was expecting any less, but in person those pillars are huge. The crowds seemed a little more spread out here so we were able to get a few pictures with no one else in them, which was nice. We saw a few kids get yelled at for climbing up on rocks and touching the marble with the ‘do not touch the marble’ signs. Each time I saw this I imagined my best friend, an Ancient Greek and Mideaval History Major, shedding a tear… or possibly having a stroke.

A view of the Parthenon showing where it has been restored and a plaque explaining how.

Parthenon Restoration information

We snuck in with a few tour groups and learned about the Olive tree (which was apparently the gift from Athena that won over the Greeks, making her the God of Athens) and then joined the cattle again on the downward.

A few more directions asked (During which I REALLY appreciated that people learned English and also felt guilty that I do not now their language in return) and found our way down to Ancient Agora. I do wish my best friend was with me for these because I bet she would know a story about each piece. Some fascinating piece of information about a stone that looked like nothing but a stone to me. But Jess and I made the most of it and decided that the term ‘Rock hard abs’ probably came from these statues. Get it? Get it? ha! Yea… we were pulling at straws.

One fascinating thing I learned here, from another tour group, was that the Greeks painted first on red pottery with black paint and then switched over to balk pottery with red paint (although the first was less time consuming). That was all I heard….

One of the many greek statues on display in Ancient Agora.

A Greek statue in ancient Agora

We hit up the other sights including ‘Kerameikos’, an ancient cemetery in Greece, and the Library of Hadrian. They had great stories, although I did not fully appreciate or understand just how magnificent these were (being that I have no background in history). I did, however, find it amazing that modern people found all of these ruins and artifacts and thought it would be pretty cool to dig up a piece of painted pottery or, better yet, a giant Corinthian pillar,

We wandered back through the streets and took some turns that we found interesting. These led us to an adorable outdoor restaurant on a pretty steep hill (I leaned to the left the whole meal to avoid rolling down). Jess and I shared a ‘greek platter’. It was vegetarian and had some neat fried cheese ball things (apologies for my ignorance), vine leaves stuffed with rice, some dips, some cheese, and a few veggies. It was perfect.

We had one last stop to make, which in fact was also our first stop, and headed back to the ruin we skipped in the first place…. turns out it was the Temple of Olympian Zeus… yea… I know…. IDIOTS! But we did make it back, and it was pretty cool, so all is well that ends well.

 

 

Heading out
Back at the hostel we tapped into some internets. I spammed Instagram with a few photos I had taken during the day and sent a ‘vox’ to the family. I also charged my camera a battery (which had died right before the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Clearly my punishment from the Gods for skipping the site in the first place) and put my photos on the computer to edit later (and to prepare for this blog).

I drank as much water as I could because I felt like death would be upon me soon if I did not, and we headed out to catch a ferry to Santorini.

 

 

Blue Star Ferry
We hopped on the metro (learning our lesson about transportation prices last time) and found our way to the port. It was surprisingly easy, even with a transfer in the middle. – The one thing in Athens I think Calgary could take after.

When we got to the port the guy at the booth was both rude and impatient. We had reserved our spots last night and used a credit card to hold them and apparently since we had done this he could not give us the 20% discount that our Eurail passes gave us. He also did not tell us how to do it next time if we need to reserve. He just gave us our tickets and said ‘too late’. So I guess we will be asking at the next port.

After he sent us away on a hunt for a public bus to take us to our ferry we wandered around with no direction for 20 minutes. This place was a shit show. No signs, traffic everywhere, no pedestrian walkways, and very few people that seemed to work there. One traffic guy pointed down a long road and said “you will find it” when we asked him to point us in the right direction… I guess he took that literally. In the end. He was right.

We hopped a bus, it took us to the ferry, we grabbed some decent chairs beside a window with a view of only the life rafts, and we curled up to nap uncomfortably.

And now… here I am. Writing to you. Still on the ferry. It was a 6 hour journey and will be over in half an hour. From here? Well… I’m not going to ruin that for you! Time will tell.

 

 

Conclusion

I am happy that we spent a day in Athens and got to see all of the ruins and hear some fascinating history. I would recommend a 1-2 day trip to anyone that has the chance to see it. That being said, I would not go back. There were a few things I may have liked to see but I found the city to be pretty dirty and claustrophobic. No one was overly nice either. But the ruins were certainly a wonder.

Checklist from Athens:

  • Acropolis & Parthenon
  • Temple of Poseidon at Sounion
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • Syntagma Square
  • New Acropolis Museum
  • National Archeological museum
  • Ancient Agora Marketplace
  • Monastiraki Flea Market
  • Plaka (oldest community in Athens)
  • Streets of Anafiotika (near entrance to Agora)
  • Mount Lycabettus
  • National Gardens

 

Until next city!

Thanks for following me, keeping up with my journey, and maybe laughing at a joke or two? I hope you get a bit of an adventure or at least some pointers for your own trip.

Chat soon!

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