Rarely have we felt such worry an evening before a trip away. We were notified early on Saturday morning that easyJet had cancelled all 30+ flights on that day from Bristol airport due to Storm Dennis. With the weather reports forecasting even worse conditions on the Sunday we spent all day checking to see if our flight and therefore holiday would be cancelled.
Even once we had set off for the airport at 2am I reserved confidence until finally our flight boarded to the Greek capital – Athens.
I’m not usually one to appreciate the weather but it wasn’t half nice to depart the place in sunshine and clear skies giving that it was still royally pissing down at home, relieved that we actually made it.
Such was our apprehension, I did next to nothing in way of an itinerary or even figure out how we were to get to the hotel from the airport. The podcasts I managed to download and listen to on board were less than inspiring, I’d even say worse than this!
A quick Google suggested the train at 10€ was the most value for money based on time/cost and it was fortunate our hotel was only a 5 minute walk from the central station, central by name but a good way out from the actual focal point of interest and tourism.
We stayed at the (again questionably named) Centrotel that had very good reviews while comparatively cheap. The welcome and service was excellent throughout our stay, the only minor qualm was the 7.5€ charge for breakfast that wasn’t little more than cereal and bread. Online reviews state the location of the hotel is in an awful location… comments surely written by some snobby posh type who couldn’t see past a bit of grafitti on unused buildings nearby and the multicultural aspect of the locals. Every night we walked through the streets and although they were busy we didn’t feel uncomfortable one iota. Stay to your Disneyland, Hun.
Given that it was early afternoon we didn’t settle for long before venturing out, negotiating the public transport systems and visiting the home of the first modern Olympic Games way back in 1896.
The Panathenaic Stadium also boasts to be the world’s only white marble stadium, but did seem second to the history and it’s amphitheatre-esque design. For just 5 euro entrance fee we enjoyed a tour in the sunshine and apart from the glorious first views of the city my favourite part was alone the athletes entrance (a dark cave) leading to a modern conference room displaying all summer and winter Olympic torches and posters since the modern games existed.
It was great to see the site still in action today albeit with a modern running track that didn’t affect the sense of historical significance.
Having skipped lunch we were ready for tea but nevertheless happy to walk through the park that housed the Zappeio Hall state house and the Temple of Zues. Although the temple was closed and dressed by scaffolding it was a good taste of what was to come.
Once we passed Hadrian’s Arch we thought we wouldn’t catch too much in search for food but around every corner laid ruins of sites, most dating around 500 years BC… Or 2,500 years old in my money!!
Wandering for a bite, the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library are well displayed in open spaces. We appreciated the fact we could enjoy the history looking through the railings rather than forced to pay entry the next day once open for a closer look around.
I have zero interest in feta cheese and still remain uneducated on Greek cuisine. On that basis it was unsurprising that we ended up in a kebab house! We did learn that a Greek kebab is actually a thing and throughout the week had one too many pork gyros’. Imagine chicken kebab bit with pork, something you’ll rarely see at home or in other countries with piggy being off the menu.
That mountain cost us about 20 quid with drinks smack bang in town. Plenty of room for an ice-cream before the metro home with a much needed sleep.
That metro journey will live long in the memory as being the first time I have been pickpocketed. Although my assets are (I assumed) well protected add an experienced thief and jam packed rail car and that was that. Thankfully the bandits only got away with about 15 euro and a fiver sterling but still the feeling of absolute helplessness hurt.
A miserable end of the night made sleep a bit difficult as I researched endless websites giving tips on how to avoid pickpockets, nothing you or I shouldn’t already know but a valuable top-up for Rome in June. There were still positives to take in that my phone was still on person and I recently changed bank accounts to Monzo eliminating fees abroad, otherwise the little fuckers could have got away with millions! (probably hundreds)…
After the previous evenings loss of assets and resulting lack of sleep I was pleased that our plans today didn’t circulate around public transport.
We bought tickets for the CitySightseeing bus that navigated 15 top sights in Athens. I always mention the tourist buses as being a bone of contention for the traveling purist, but would state that this one was a really good investment (max £18 each) and had a pickup point a five minute walk from the hotel. Today was the only day we had breakfast at the hotel. For €15 it was overpriced, even after I discovered the bacon. With a fridge in the room we stocked up on ham, bread, butter and juice for the remaining 3 mornings costing less than €2 per day. Sensible.
With the sun making an appearance whilst on the top deck, it was a happy moment. A time to be thankful that the storms back home didn’t involve us and allowed us to travel here. I think I was over the pickpockets last night.
The cash we had to take out, where could we hide it? The answer was in between a pack a travel tissues. At the bottom of the rucksack. Never had a worry for the rest of the trip. Genius Christopher.
Back on the bus, the audio commentary provided some interesting facts as we headed to the centre of Athens we vaguely touched the evening prior, with some things added to the list should we have time for the rest of the trip (we did). Looked like a quality #buswanker if I say so myself!
Ever so slightly outside of the narrow central Street was our drop off at the number 1 stop for the tour. The Acropolis.
Acropolis is actually the name for the area we were at. The thing you’ll see on the brochure photos is the Parthenonas, the aim for our uphill climb, buying our tickets en route… About a fiver each if I remember. The climb was a bit FML at the start but was well broken up by a view overlooking the amphitheatre and plenty of photo opportunities. I learnt later there are alternative routes starting closer to town.
Once reaching the summit, the area was relatively flat. The main event was impressive but it was impossible not to notice the crane smack bang in the middle and scaffolding along one side.
This is a tough one. The area and a lot of Greek history dates back some 2,500 years, but during that time I reckon there has been A LOT of redecorating. So much so, looking at the structure did make me consider how much was what one would consider authentic.
Still, it’s the main tourist attraction, if I were Greece, I too would do any work needed to keep it there and count the millions in brings in tourism every year.
As the site was at a tip of a mount, it did of course offer wonderful panoramic views of the city and in the distance Piraes and the Aaronic Gulf body of water. I do not mean to bismirch the place as it really is a wonderful place to visit.
We rambled back down toward the bus pickup and made our way to the main Syntagma square outside parliament. This where the majority of protests take place (there’s been a few in recent years…) but today was was a quiet day.
A very weird thing about the royal palace / parliament building would take ones interest when visiting, with the only similarity being the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace…
There’s a monument between the square and political centre named “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”.
Whilst I haven’t done much in the way of research apart from it’s a dedication to those who lost their lives during wars, those whom unidentified, I can tell you that this tomb is guarded 24 hours a day by officers of the Presidential Guard who swap shifts every hour, on the hour. SMACK BANG ON THE HOUR. It definitely wasn’t 2:07pm when we were there…
Whilst some of their marching/stepping/security may seem humerous to some, it was a fascinating bit of culture. We luckily timed it so only had to wait for 5 minutes until I steady handidly recorded all 7 minutes of the process. I did this to inspire me to kick off our very own #hownot2life YouTube channel but not quite feeling it three weeks later.
Food, hotel for a quick rest and on to something else that had been on agenda having first seen it from the aforementioned Olympic Stadium on day 1.
Form the numerous sights we had seen so far, it was impossible not the recognise the little building on top of a hill pointing out unusually from the otherwise flat earth. This point was called Lycabettus Hill. Imagine the sunset from there?! The agenda, it was on.
Upsettingly shortening our rest time in the hotel, we set out at 5.15 knowing sunset in February, even in Greece, was close to 6. Time to put our trust in Google maps and the pick pocket plagues of public transport. Throughout our trip Google told me that their transport schedules were not up to date. Ignoring these was at the time a humongous ballache. The bus went a completely different direction! After a aimless walk and skipping a few buses that drove past, I caved in and spent a whole fiver to take us to the base of the hill where we understood a funicular would take us the rest of the way.
Thank God (citation needed) we got a taxi. The funicular station was almost half way up the bloody hill. A steep incline that would’ve taken 20 minutes had we departed at the nearest bus stop or metro. 7 euro each was a bit OTT we thought but as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon we were very limited for time.
I hate scaffolding. Everywhere we go it seems to ruin photos of nice things. We are always wrong place, wrong time. However, on this occasion we timed it perfectly. As we climbed to the viewpoint we were spoiled with the last few minutes of the Athens colourful sky… Colour I can’t recall seeing previously. It was busy at this point and I had to use my muscle (lol I wish) to get some good snaps, before the agony of deciding which Instagram filter was best. Ultimately I think no filter was required.
We skipped our return down the lift and decided instead to walk the meandering path. Very reminiscent of the liberty statue in Budapest if you’ve been. Dark. Mobile phone torch. Hope you enter civilisation soon. Every turn a wonderful view of Athens at night.
That walk was fun but took longer than anticipated to reach the metro station. Biting the bullet we caught two of them without losing any valuables! I was so delighted about this.
We did stop off for another sit down kebab before the hotel. But fuck it I’m on holiday…
If you’ve made it through the first two days’ posts this should be plain sailing from here.
We understood yesterday that there was a public transport strike today. Luckily the CitySightseeing bus offered a ‘get an extra day free’ offer that we made the most of.
We did consider a boat trip to one of the countless islands for today but as this wasn’t an option decided to calmly see some things we otherwise would have skipped. We caught the bus and revisited half the stops from yesterday, getting off by the market area, somewhere that seemed fascinating the day before.
What seemed interesting soon turned into something of horror. The meat and fish market had literally a hundred or so stalls, actively turning an animal into a carcass. The raw turkey heads selling for 3 euro made the whole experience worse.
You won’t mind that I skipped taking a few snaps. Instead choosing to exiting the indoor market ASAP, we entered in to fresh air and crossed the road to the outdoor market where stall holders where selling a wonderfully vibrant array of fruit and veg, with the odd bordering shop front offering something unique if not bizarre.
We had an option from here, wait for the undoubtedly busier bus for 4 stops or walk 20 minutes to the Acropolis museum. Thankfully we walked amongst endless souvenir shops, small cafes and ruins until got to the museum.
The museum was half price being off-peak and although the experience was a little disappointing it was worth a visit for €6. An impressive building which started with a look at some of the more intricate pieces of 2500 year old art, quite spectacular. Note I was told I wasn’t allowed to take photo’s in this area ‘due to accidents’ but as I already took a few it would be a shame to waste.
We climbed the floors and seen more ancient pieces. I kinda liked how the museum moulded missing parts to give you the complete picture but as did the Parthenonas, it did take away from the originality – what is one to do?
Going to the museum was a little underwhelming as there was so much to see by simply walking the streets. One simply must see exhibit though was the LEGO build of the Acropolis. Not sure of the need to include Gandalf from Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones but it brought a smile to our faces.
It walk only a short walk from the museum along the non-seafront promenade to our bus pick up that would take us on a tour of Pireaus.
Pireaus, I can tell you is one of the busiest in Europe, but thankfully the city isn’t swallowed by shipping containers. We passed the Greek football team Olympiakos stadium and a couple of stadia in use from Athens 2004 Olympics.
Once we passed the shipyard the ride took us along the peaceful coastline frequented by marina’s with yachts docked way more than my kidney is valued at.
For the peasants amongst us the areas also gave opportunity for a long distance view of Athens some 10km away.
We considered stopping off at Pireaus but thought a drive through was adequate.
Once we had made our way back in to Athens it was decided that we had little opportunity to re-enter the city with no public transport that evening, and instead opting for a meal nearby our hotel in the ‘really rough’ area for a splendid evening of Greek food, albeit still very much kebab based!
We usually like to get out of the city for a day or so when we go away. The public transport was running normally on our penultimate morning so did consider visiting a number of islands or Olympia, where the Olympic torch still gets lit for the first time on its journey across the world. However, after some deliberation we chose to visit Corinth – or more specifically the Corinth Canal.
The canal is quite a way from the centre and so was the train station. The train took about an hour from Athens central, a hot but pleasant ride. The train tickets should have been free as it was within the limits of our 3 day travel pass, but we only knew this on the return journey €28 lighter!
We had the option to walk in to town (which wasn’t in view) or get a taxi to the point of interest, choosing the latter.
Corinthian Canal was dug out in the late 1800’s to get ships from the Soronic to the Aegean sea and vice versa saving a 700km detour… and we think the Severn Bridge is useful!
Way up high where we were on the pedestrian walkway and road nearly 50 metres up, it was/is an incredible feat to see the amount of ground moved to enable this essential passage – I don’t think they had JCB’s in the 1890’s! The cliffs stand at an 80 degree angle so it perhaps seems a lot further down than it is.
Right place, right time meant that we were able to see a tugboat lead a cargo ship through the passageway. I believe this is a rare occasion now as most modern ships are too wide to fit in the 8 metre gap. Its main role today is a tourist attraction, allowing bungee jumping in the warmer months – I wonder if I would have had a go…
The canal was quite cool but won’t win any wonder of the world awards. We had little option but to taxi back to the train station and return to Athens. An expensive way to spend 3 hours but it has filled a few paragraphs!
On returning to Athens we enjoyed another burger from the local chain “Goody’s” that I may have mentioned a few days ago – decent stuff and headed to the National Archaeological Museum not far from our hotel.
The museum had countless remains of buildings, artefacts and statues, all over 2500 years old. I would advise you to visit here a bit earlier in your trip as by now – day 4 – we had seen SO MUCH stone and I felt quite guilty I didn’t give it the time or attention it undoubtedly deserves.
Later than night my beloved Newport County were on TV funnily enough – so we decided to head back to the hotel for a few hours and leave early for tea. In hindsight I wouldn’t have minded popping back to the Panathenaic stadium to replace my pickpocketed souvenir coin, but ultimately the photos were good enough.
Overcoming my demons from said pickpocketing on Day 1, we rose from the metro at Monastiraki and wondered around the busy but peaceful small streets hunting for a Greek restaurant we should have visited on our first night. A little but of confident guesswork resulted in us finding our destination, enjoying multiple plates of ‘proper’, hearty food. Restaurant Scholario was so good in fact, I’ve just spend 20 minutes on Google Maps street view trying to recall the name!
Belly’s full we wandered back through the streets, passing the Roman Agora and at least 3 or 4 other bits of archaeology. By kick-off of Newport v Salford (with a trip to Wembley at stake) I was feet up on the balcony – the downside being that I consumed about 30 nervous ciggies and we lost on Penalties! Feels strange worrying about it now, as the final never took place – no Europeans we encountered took any notice to “Covid 19” at that point…
Our last day and finally some shit weather! The rain cancelled my half-arsed plan to visit a nearby by park with more views of the city, so we checked out, headed to the airport and went home… and by home I meant the pub for quiz night!
It has been a while since returning home so I can’t recall any top tips – but keep an eye out for those pesky pocket bandits! Most places take card… any cash we did take was hidden in a pack of tissues, something I will be routinely doing going forward.
I’ve written day 4 and 5 during mid-May Week 7 (I think!) of lockdown here in Wales. I’m lucky that I haven’t lost out too much financially with trips to Amsterdam and Rome off the cards and serious doubts over Helsinki, Dublin and Sofia in the Autumn. It could be a lot worse though. For now we’re happy to stay home, and stay safe.
Thanks for reading! Chris