Grecian Getaway

Grecian Getaway

One of the really great things about Germany is that, as spring approaches summer the number of long weekends explodes! Take May for example, one three day weekend & one four day weekend is backed up by anther four day weekend at the beginning of June.

It’s that June long weekend that we decide to head to Athens for four days – three & a half if you count travelling time.

So, Thursday morning we are awoken by our alarms at four am, after a quick shower & snack we head out of our front door & set off for the four hundred metre walk to the bus stop. From our place the bus takes less than twenty minutes to get to terminal one at Frankfurt international airport, where we head to the airport Skyline train shuttle to take us to terminal two.

After the debacle that was our experience heading to Marseille, we now make sure to always pay for “Priority” security clearance – it cuts the summer time security wait down from an hour to less than 10 minutes, we are not missing another flight because of security processing delays!

Once through security we can relax & decide to grab some breakfast at one of the many airport cafes – I have fried eggs with toast & Iris elects for the bircher muesli.

Once we have breakfast out of the way we head for our departure gate, which is about as far away as you can get without returning to terminal one! Getting on board is a breeze though, thanks again to our priority pass.

The three hour flight is uneventful & we touch down at Athens ahead of schedule at 11.15. Our AirBnB host, Anna, has provided us with instructions as to how to navigate our way to her apartment – all we have to do is find the train station & we should be set.

Thankfully, the airport signage also features English translations as a companion to the Greek alphabet – which has a closer resemblance to hieroglyphics than to the alphabet I am accustomed to! We make it to the station platform & have a 20 minute wait before the train to the city will be departing. Plenty of time to purchase our €10 (each) one way tickets.

It’s a crowded train but modern & it’s airconditioned! The second indicator that this is a hot climate – the first being the blue skies & 30C+ temperature outside. It takes just over an hour until we reach the city stop of Syntagma, where we need to interchange to catch the Metro line 2 train to Ormonia. That’s only two stops away – so far so good – Anna’s directions have been spot on!

Once off the train at Ormonia though we have to rely on Google maps as Anna’s instructions do not indicate which station exit to use in order for her street directions to make sense. That’s achieved relatively easily and it’s only a 10 minute walk from Ormonia Sq to her apartment building.

Anna has messaged us that she has had to pop out for 10 minutes, so we head to the small local food vendor next door to Anna’s building & grab something quick to eat & drink & consume it in Anna’s apartment building lobby.

We’ve not long finished eating when Anna arrives, apologising profusely for making us wait – we let her know that it’s fine & she takes us up to the sixth floor in the three person lift & on to the apartment itself.

The apartment is large & our room is in keeping with that – it’s even airconditioned!

Anna shows us around the place and then sits down with us for 15 minutes explaining how to get here & there & showing us on a map where the main points of interest are. She also gives us a couple of suggestions on where to eat. This is one of the things we love about AirBnB & sharing space with a local – you get local knowledge of things to do & not to do & how to get around!

Anna says farewell (she, actually lives on the outskirts of Athens now & uses the apartment as an office, as well as for AirBnB), & we take some time to settle in – by now it’s a little after 3pm & we need a bit of a “Relax” before heading out to explore & have some dinner.

Once suitably relaxed enough we decide to head out and get something to eat. Anna had recommended a truly “Local” experience in a market basement establishment that is situated in the old produce market area, about 10 minutes for the apartment, in the Sokratus area. It takes us a bit longer to get there as we weren’t sure which old building we were looking for – all we had from Anna was a description & a street name. Turns out that it’s called “Diporto”

We find it eventually and head down the stairs to a small area lined with old oak barrels & furnished with old sixties style tables & chairs – just as Anna had described it. One of the staff greets us with a smile & beckons for us to sit down, which we do, & he then walks away to return a moment later with a copper tankard full of some sort of fermented apple drink which he places in a small bowl of cold water after pouring us some of the drink into our small glasses.

Next he returns with some fresh bread & three bowls of food – one containing a chick pea dish, one a potato dish & the third a broad bean dish & he indicates for us to eat. Anna had explained to us that this place was very traditional & only had a few dishes on the menu (you can order whatever you want as long as it has potatoes in it!).

We try each dish to see what they taste like – Iris prefers the broad beans dish & I prefer the potato dish – the poor old chick pea dish was a little neglected after that! We eat our fill & the fermented apple drink sort of grows on you after a few sips. Although Iris was cautious of it in case she got too light headed!

This was certainly an experience & well worth the trouble we went to to find the place. Unfortunately though they decided that, as tourists, we can afford to pay more than the locals & we were charged €20 for what was really only a €10 meal. But what can you do – there’s no menus anywhere & even if there were, they would be in Greek! Just not worth the aggravation to argue but the lesson is – always ask “How much?” before you start to eat anything here!

From here we are off to try to find a rooftop hotel bar that has been recommended to us by some friends. The hotel is the “Central Athens Hotel” & it’s located close to the “Plaka” area of town. The view was described to us as “Incredible” as it looks up to the Acropolis.

According to Google, it’s only 10 minutes from where we are. We find the hotel after a little scouring the streets & make our way up to the rooftop. I felt sure that the hotel staff at reception would challenge us but no-one paid us any real attention – mind you, we were looking very much like tourist so I guess they expect our kind to be coming and going quite a bit.

The lift in this hotel is even smaller than the one in Anna’s building, albeit a lot more modern (it has automatic doors for one)! Once on the top floor we make our way to the rooftop bar – easy enough to find, as if you go right it leads to the rooftop jacuzzi area, left & you’re in the bar. Out to the terrace & wow! The view does not disappoint.

When we were told that the bar looks up to the Acropolis it really understated how close you are to this amazing monument – it dominates the skyline! You almost feel like the ancient Greek “Gods” are looking down at you. It’s a little after 6pm and the bar is surprisingly quiet – there are only three or four other couples here, so we have our pick of the best spots to take a seat.

It doesn’t stay this quiet for long though – as sunset approaches it gets quite busy!

We choose a spot at the far edge of the rooftop, at a high table with stool style seats & order a couple of drinks. Mine is a local draught beer & Iris goes for an Aperol spritz – we need to quench our thirst after our walk from Anna’s apartment. Fortunately, the bar automatically serves you with tall glasses of cold water (something we were to discover that most places here did without having to request it).

What a view, looking up to the majestic Acropolis, as we watch the sun go down! We decide to stay for the switching on of the floodlights around the Acropolis, so we order more drinks – a wine for Iris & an Ouzo for me (when in Athens….).

The combination of the early dusk light & the floodlights is quite spectacular & gives the Acropolis an even more imposing look than it has during the day – something I would not have thought possible!

A little before 10pm we head back to our apartment, it’s been a long day but very enjoyable. It’s only a twenty minute walk back to where we are staying – we should sleep well tonight!

 

FRIDAY

We ease into the day very casually – we’re not in a rush & this break is not about dashing here, there & everywhere just to add another sight to our passport. So, after we have showered, we head out to a small bakery nearby & grab a giant donut to share – with a couple of coffees.

Second stop is the Archealogical Museum. Anna recommended it as a “Must see” as it has the most comprehensive collection of exhibits of the old Greek & Mediterranean cultures in Greece. It’s also just a 5 minute walk from our front door!

Anna did not exaggerate – you could spend days in this place & not see everything! We spent a few hours here & loved every minute of it. Highly recommended for anyone who is even remotely interested in ancient Mediterranean culture – there’s even an exhibit featuring what is, arguably the world’s first computer – the “Antikythera mechanism” (named after the island that the ship carrying it sank near). What a feat of engineering – by engaging the gearing mechanisms it is made up of you can predict solar eclipses, phases of the moon & so much more. What the ancients knew about celestial navigation makes a mockery of accepted “Wisdom” in the west around Galileo’s time!

We decided that Athens was beckoning us around 1pm so we headed to the museum’s canteen located in the basement but very airy thanks to the adjacent atrium – time for a snack before we hit the streets again.

Once outside we head straight to the “Stop” for the “Hop on hop off” bus tour & grab a two day ticket for each of us. These have to be the best value way to get a feel for what a city has to offer that there is, to see all the main attractions & even to get around from point to point. We only have five minutes to wait before the next bus arrives (in Athens they are every 15 minutes during summer).

Even though the sun is now at its strongest, we elect to head to the open top area upstairs as you can get the best photos that way. Mind you, after twenty minutes, Iris decides that she’s had enough sun & heads downstairs into the airconditioned comfort & leaves me with the responsibility of getting all those “Important” shots! I don’t mid the responsibility – I have broad shoulders.

The whole tour takes just over 90 minutes & now we have a good idea as to what we want to spend more time at. First up will be the Acropolis. We have been told that in the height of the tourist season the queues for tickets can be very long (over an hour & sometimes up to two!). Unfortunately, online ticketing is not yet available here – unless you book through a tour operator with a guide service (& that’s more expensive).

However, I did unearth a tip online which is, when the queues are too long, that you are best to go to one of the other attractions (such as the Roman Agora, “Temple of Zeus” or “Hadrian’s Arch”) & buy a “Multiple site” ticket which gives you access to all the main sites for only €30pp. There are rarely queues at any of the lesser sites so you can save a lot of time by doing this. If you plan to see more than two of the sites you also save quite a bit of money & the multiple site ticket is valid for five days – giving you plenty of time if you need it. Mind you, you can only use the ticket to get into each site once (no going back for return visits to the same site).

We didn’t end up doing the multiple ticket thing as we knew that the queues at the Acropolis were not long (from our earlier tour) – the fact that it was a little after 3pm helped (the busiest times are between 11am-3pm – thanks to the tour buses) & that we are still not in the busy tourist season. So, we opted for the single ticket at €20 each.

It’s a tremendous area and takes a minimum of an hour to have a decent look at – longer if you want to really soak up the atmosphere & explore the surrounding hillside. When we were there the Parthenon had some areas under scaffolding & there’s an old crane that has been on site since the 1960’s – both of which detract from the experience a little. However, according to some of the information boards around the site, the old crane is in the process of being removed & will, itself, become an exhibit at one of the museums in the city as a part of the history of the modern restoration of the Parthenon.

Notwithstanding those minor irritations, this has to be one of the most impressive structures you will ever see when it comes to our ancient history. In its day this would have really made a statement about the power & influence of Greek society on the world – it’s origins being close to 4,000 years old!

There were also some columns that were partially restored with sections of new marble to give you an idea as to what they would have looked like in their prime. Having only ever seen such columns in their “Eroded” & weathered state, I hadn’t ever given much thought as to how impressive they would have been – but wow! They would have been absolutely amazing.

Once you get over the impact of the Parthenon, you then get blown away by the view of the city & surrounding areas, stretching almost as far as the eye can see inland and back to the ocean. Very, very photo worthy & I made sure to take full advantage of the opportunity (much to Iris’ dismay at times!).

Once we had both had enough of this experience (if that is ever truly possible!), we decided to walk back down through the old “Plaka” part of town to the city. The “Plaka” is the old part of the city with narrow streets & alleys – some really interesting old buildings here, along with an eclectic collection of street stalls, cafes & bars. We decide to grab some liquid refreshment at one such bar which was on a small crossroad where two alleys met. It provided some interesting “People watching” opportunities, as well as a really atmospheric feeling – you could almost picture yourself being in ancient Athens with the style of architecture around you.

We ended up soaking up quite a bit of atmosphere here – a couple of hours worth in fact – before we continued our journey down into the Agora & on to Monastiraki Square area – which is the “Official” start of the historic Flea market ( although street stalls abound almost everywhere in this area) where we picked up a couple of Kilos of cherries for €2!

By now it was getting close to 7pm. We decided that we would head back to the apartment to freshen up before heading out for dinner.

By the time we made it back, had a rest, freshened up & then headed out again, it was close to 9pm. Despite the lateness of the hour we were not particularly concerned as we had already decided on where we were going to eat. Along the way to the apartment earlier we had passed by a unique looking eatery called, “Little Kook”. What had made it unique was the winged dragon on its roof wearing a pirate hat – that was what we noticed as we were walking towards it. Then, as we got closer, we could see that the entire place – inside & out – was themed in the pirate vein, including the staff (all female) who were decked out in pirate britches, knee high boots, “Puffy” sleeved white shirts & three cornered pirate hats!

They all looked to be having fun too!

So, we headed back there &, despite a few wrong turns, managed to retrace our steps easily enough. We sat in an outside area, across the street from the main building (still surrounded by pirate themed decor). Mind you, once there we soon realised that the menu was more like that of a pancake parlour than a café. Still, they had some appealing savoury pancakes so we both decided on the smoked salmon ones & ordered drinks – Iris an Aperol spritz & me a large beer.

We were in for a shock – albeit a pleasant one – when the drinks came out. The “Pour” was huge! Iris had a large balloon glass filled just about to the brim & my beer came in a 750ml champagne style bottle (they only served by the bottle (or so I was told!). To cap that off it was a Belgian beer with an alcohol rating of 8.4% (putting that into context, standard beers have a rating of 4-5%)!

The pancakes were served in a portion size matching that of the drinks – In the end we took a doggy bag of the leftovers which we would have for breakfast the next day. The staff were all really friendly & we had a blast there – making sure to have a good look around the main building before we left – from Parrots to Octopi, Mermaids to King Neptune, the interior was even more impressive than the exterior!

It was close to 1am before we got back to our apartment, having had a thoroughly enjoyable & memorable day.

 

SATURDAY

Breakfast was taken in the dining room of our apartment & consisted of last night’s pancake remains (which still tasted delicious), some cherries (leftovers from our purchase at the Flea Markets) & a nice cup of English breakfast tea.

With that out of the way we headed out & walked the five minutes it took us to get to the “Hop on hop off” bus stop outside the Archealogical Museum. We weren’t after another tour – we were just using the service to get us to the Plaka area of town where the antique & Bric A Brac markets are, not because we particularly wanted to buy something but because we just enjoy browsing around those sorts of places!

We didn’t have long to wait for the next bus &, in less than 20 minutes we were alighting in the midst of the markets – a person could go really wild with some of the items up for grabs, that is, if they didn’t have luggage restrictions to worry about!

Iris ended up buying a lovely pair of sterling silver earrings with a Turquoise stone before we headed off in the direction of the Melina Merkouri monument to catch the “Hop on Hop off” bus that tours to the local beach area (all included in our original ticket).

When we got to the stop we had a little over half an hour before the next bus was due (the beach route only runs every hour), so we strolled up the street & grabbed a couple of drinks at a nearby café whilst we waited.

This bus route is not as interesting, historically, as the old parts of Athens but is quite scenic – suburbs on your left & the Aegean sea on your right. The commentary was still informative though & we learned just that little bit more about how modern Athens came to be the city it is today – including passing by what was once the main airport. Decommissioned in 2001, it is just a collection of disused hangars & runways now but can lay claim to being the most expensive piece of undeveloped real estate in Europe! Facing onto the sea, I could only imagine what flying into this city must have been like back then.

After passing through quite a few bays & beach areas – including the former water playground of the rich & famous (like Aristotle Onassis), which still features a few motor yachts that would be worth a tidy sum, we decided on a beach area we both liked the look of, which was close to Oceanis Beach resort & got off the bus to catch some sunshine & have a swim.

A short five minute walk from our drop off point was a nice area with some benches & much appreciated trees for shade which wasn’t too crowded. So we decided that this was the place for us and settled down for a couple of hours of relaxing under the sun, periodically cooling off in the water which, to my surprise, was very cool indeed!

Believe it or not, we still had some cherries left over from our markets purchase, so we had more than a few of those & then grabbed a large donut & a drink to share from a “Mobile” vendor who was carrying the donuts in one bag & drinks in a medium sized esky – this should be enough to starve off any hunger pains until we get back to town.

In no time at all two hours had flown by – time to make our way back to the bus stop to get the next “Hop on hop off” bus that was due at 4.15. We only had 10 minutes in which to get changed & get back there & we surprised ourselves by making it back in less than that! However, we needn’t have worried as the bus ended up running 10 minutes behind schedule. The route back simply followed the route there (but in reverse!) so, we just relaxed & watched the ocean in the distance for the 30 minute drive back to the city.

Once there, we walked from the Temple of Zeus to Syntagna Square to catch the city “Hop on hop off” bus at stop one, to take us to stop two (the War Museum) – which was just a little too far for us to walk. Iris had noticed a couple of 18th century style cannons outside of a museum there yesterday (something I had missed – probably too busy taking photos!) & had suggested we check it out in case I could go “Cannonsurfing” one of my quirky holiday activities where I stand on an old cannon in a surfer style balance pose.

As the time was fast running away from us (it was after 5.30pm now) I was a little concerned that the museum might be closed by the time we got there. However I needn’t have worried – it was open until 7pm during May-October and, better still, there was unrestricted (& unsupervised) access to the cannons to boot!

Needless to say, I didn’t waste much time in “Striking a pose” which Iris was good enough to record with my camera phone for posterity (& my Facebook posts on the subject, aptly hashtagged as “#cannonsurfing)! She’s a trooper.

Once we got the photo out of the way it was back to the number two bus stop to catch the next “Hop on hop off” bus which we wanted to take to the Plaka to have another wander around & to select a suitable place for dinner.

We wandered around for a little while & then found a delightful Greek streetside restaurant to have dinner at. Iris had a beefburger, which turned out to be nothing like what she thought it would be (but was delicious anyhow) & I ordered the lemon roasted lamb (can’t come to Athens & not have at least one lamb meal!).

Both meals were delicious & especially so as they were washed down by wine & beer! The passing parade of tourists was also very entertaining & in no time at all it was after 8pm & we both decided that we should start to have a bit more of a “Wander” in a homeward direction as we were both feeling a little tired.

Our first stop was a local bakery where we got a couple of quiches for tomorrow’s breakfast – we have a morning flight & with a 90 minute transfer to the airport by train, we won’t have a lot of time for a sit down affair at a bakery or café.

I swear that as the day wears on & starts to transform into night that this city becomes even busier. OK, it’s a Saturday night, I get that, but the amount of families out & about is really amazing. The shops here appreciate it too, with many of them remaining open until well after 9pm & that further adds to the atmosphere.

Many of the shop owners & staff are outside their premises greeting tourists & suggesting, politely, that you have a look at their wares – but it’s nothing like the “Assault” you experience in places like Turkey & Egypt. In fact, it’s quite engaging & the restaurant Maitre D’s, in particular, enjoy some amusing banter with the tourists as they try to tempt them into dining at their establishment!

After finding a nice little Gelato shop on the edge of Monastirakin Square we had an ice cream & then walked back to our apartment, which took a little longer than usual as my Google Maps App took us in a completely different direction & what should have taken us 15 minutes took almost 45!

 

 

SUNDAY

Time to pack & catch the train to the airport. We allowed plenty of time in case of any “Mishaps” along the way. But, as it turned out, everything went smoothly, which meant that we ended up at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

We left the apartment at 7.30am (spot on the time we planned for a change!) & walked the ten minutes to Omania Sq, catching the Metro red line to Syntagna. Here we switched to the blue line which took us straight to the airport – we only had to wait for 9 minutes for the next airport train (they run every thirty minutes).

A little over an hour later we were getting off the train at the airport station which is only a five minute walk to the airport terminal. Like all airports the place is always busy but, again, our purchase of the “Priority” passes paid off. We were the only people going through the priority security line at the time & the officer there seemed a little disappointed that he would have to process us (after he checked out our priority pass status)!

We were all set & sitting in the airport coffee lounge by 9.15am & our flight didn’t leave until 11.25am so we figured that we could indulge in a cup of coffee whilst we waited for our gate to open.

In the end, our flight did not board until 11.40am – thankfully our priority passes put us ahead of the majority waiting to board so we were able to get ourselves settled on the plane before the throngs boarded!

Three hours later we landed at Frankfurt after a pleasant flight & no dramas.

Another great break concluded and one more experience to the many we are clocking up whilst we live in Europe!

Next stop?? Not sure, but Amsterdam & Ireland are definitely in the mix, as are some of the regions of Germany we are yet to explore – this Digital Nomad lifestyle has a lot going for it!

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