Athens and Her Ancient Highlights in a Day.

After several connecting flights we finally arrived in Athens 35 minutes earlier than scheduled to land. Now that’s a very rare but welcome outcome to a long flight!! Our friends had already arrived ahead of us and had been at the Hotel Melia for a couple of hours.

For this trip I’ve named our friends Lord Lunchalot ( every fb entry seems to have Troy lunching some where) and Gorging Gonzo (has ability to eat his way through the days). Throughout this and other blogs on this trip either name or initial (LL or GG) may be used for them, depending on how I feel. For those familiar with my blogs LL is our friend who temporarily resides in Toronto and has accompanied us on our NY trip several years ago. At that time I described him as our Ninja. GG travelled with us 5 years ago to Greece for our wedding. So there you have the 2 extra characters who may feature in these next few travel tales.

Now that’s sorted let’s get back to Athens……that grand old lady of civilisation.

For this trip we chose to stay at the Melia Hotel, there had been good and bad reviews not for the hotel but the area it was situated in. However this was my 5th visit so I know Athens is old, a little on the decrepit side, dusty and dirty in some places….but it goes along with the character of the place. Athens IS OLD……the Parthenon was built in 447BC to replace an existing temple….the city was inhabited long before that so don’t come to Athens expecting an amazing new city. On the fringes you’ll find the newer sections with many resorts but for character and the real Athens come to the centre, to the Plaka and the streets around the Plaka. Wonder at the expertise of the early builders, plumbers and, of course, the law makers, doctors and mathematicians. Civilisation began in this area. The grand old lady says “take me as I am, no airs and graces, no massive skyscrapers big and better than anyone else, I don’t need that”. “I am central to the start of civilisation and the Olympics”.

I made a last minute decision to book a taxi to pick us up from the airport, the Company was Welcome PickUps and was a normal taxi but prearranged so we didn’t have to wait in line. Stepping into a cab at Athens airport to City was 35€ and the prearranged taxi was 38€ so not too much different but worth it not to have to stand in a taxi line. Our driver discussed the issues of the Greek economy the world has been hearing about…..putting some things into presepective for us. Mainly the facts around only being able to withdraw 60€ a day from the banks and ATMs. This is cash however they’re still able to pay all their bills and rent/mortgage via the Internet banking. The driver said unless you have to visit the doctor a couple of times a week 60€ a day is plenty.

The 40 minute drive to the hotel passed quickly and we were soon standing at the check in desk. The desk clerk gave us our room keys and a number of vouchers as well as our 2 companions room numbers. We dropped our bags in our room, had a quick shower, changed into our cosies and headed to the rooftop pool and bar area where we found Lord L reclining on a day bed with his book. GG was in his room resting! He met us at the pool area a short time later. We had a swim and sat by the pool till closing time – the pool closed at 6pm to allow time for it to be changed into a dining area from 8pm. We showered, changed and met back at the rooftop restaurant at 8pm for dinner. I had prebooked a couple of weeks before the trip thinking we may be jet lagged and not wanting to head out into the streets trying to decide on a restaurant for dinner. The food was good and the waiters were very pleasant. A very relaxing evening. Met a young English fellow from Essex who was with his partner, after a chat with us he decided he and his partner should join us so off he went to bring him over…..they never came back…we assume his partner didn’t fancy a chat with 4 Aussies and we were fine with that as we were contemplating heading to our rooms.

In bed before 10pm.

Up early the next morning, Saturday, for the whirlwind tour of Athens and it’s highlights primarily for Lord  Lunchalot as he is the only member of the party who hasn’t been to Athens before. We left the hotel at 8.15am heading through the outskirts of the Plaka for the Acropolis. A good walk and best done early. We spent about 90 minutes at the Acropolis before deciding it was time for morning tea and finding a spot in the Plaka for fresh fruit salad and ice cream. The fruit here is so tasty ….. all fresh not refrigerated. The frappe wasn’t too bad…..Greek coffee is way too strong for me so I added some ice cream…a little better and drinkable.

Ok, time to move on to the next highlight….Lycabettus Hill and St Georges Chapel. At night this landmark is lit up as much as the Acropolis. We would not be walking this one….this landmark is much higher than the Acropolis. Taxi was the only way up!! Unfortunately 3 men and a lady in a small taxi make for a squishy ride. I, of course, was seated in between 2 men in a Skoda sedan. Thank goodness the distance wasn’t too great nor did the driver speed. Seat belts are not mandatory which was just as well because there was no way I could’ve put a seatbelt on.

View of Lycabettus Hill from hotel roof top

View of Lycabettus Hill from hotel roof top

The taxis can only go so far up the hill then the is no choice but to walk the rest. The face was $6 euros – quite reasonable. We had asked at the hotel how far it was and the best way to go….he said “you could take the train to Omonia Square station then walk for 25 minutes but in this heat taxi is best”. We weren’t going to argue with that!! After the drive we all agreed 25 minutes was a gross exaggeration – more likely to be 1 hour and 25 minutes if I managed the first steep incline. As it was it took 15 minutes, from where the taxi dropped us, of climbing stairs and winding corners on this goat trail to the chapel so another 10 minutes back to Omonia Station would have had to be by helicopter. Oh, there was a sign that said cable car available from Kolonaki to the chapel return….we thought we might take the cable car down.

The chapel is perched on the very top of the mountain and leads to thoughts of how the materials were transported here for the build and why someone would even build a chapel up here. The scene below is well worth the visit and a leisurely lunch extends the time a visitor has to take in all the views.

We had lunch at the K Grill a few steps below the chapel, not sure it was a healthy lunch but the souvlaki was good, LL’s Greek Salad looked appetising too and I can’t list the items GG ate – as his name suggests every meal is a feast for him.  Whilst having lunch we noticed a man leaning over the small wall that surrounds the church and helps protect people from falling.  As I looked closer I realised he was having a partial body wash using a hose. One way to cool down I suppose….although the way he was leaning over he would  definitely had a blood rush to the head. That would have made me dizzy and over I’d go….all the way to the bottom!!

Church of St George. Look closely for man using hose to wash.

Church of St George. Look closely for man using hose to wash.

Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens at 277 metres above Athens city centre. The Church of St George, built in 19th Century, stands at the very top. I mentioned the cable car earlier ……well, we couldn’t find it ….a few signs but no actual cable car. I assume everyone preferred to walk it so the cable car became obsolete lol….or it never existed.

After lunch we made the journey back to where the taxi had dropped us….we passed a number of people heading up the stairs that were a little heat distressed, we gave them words of encouragement to help then reach the top…words such as ‘not far now’ or ‘ just a few more sets of stairs’ and ‘ you’ll love the views once you recover from the climb’…..not sure our words were always welcome but we tried!!!

Hmm, no taxis at the bottom so we walked a little further along hoping one would be parked under a tree just waiting for us. No such luck… We sat for awhile then LL said ‘Oh, wonder if they have Uber here’. ..he uses Uber in Canada so he checks and, yes, they do. Lord L sent a text and our Uber taxi was on it’s way. I was hoping for something a little larger than a Skoda but, no, here I was squished in the middle again!!!

Next stop was the Panathenaic Stadium, the hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896. The cost of the taxi ride was €4.20….. but the savings in time and to our legs was enormous. It was time for taking photos of us on the dais…deciding who should be at 1st wasn’t too difficult …I stood there and refused to be moved whilst the others jostled for position on 2nd or 3rd. At one stage there was one with a foot on first and one on second. We asked other tourists to take our photos whilst we performed different actions for the photos. One young couple who we had already photographed on the dais a couple of times saw our antics and came back to do the same thing, then others also copied us. Next it was time for the 3 men to compete in track and field….well no point in a pic of someone standing stock still looking like a statue – may as well make the pic interesting! We wandered around the Stadium for an hour until the sun beating down on our heads forced us to consider heading to the nearest cafe for a cold drink. We were the only customers and the language barrier took a little time to sort out each coffee choice. Cold coffees, unless espresso or Greek, seem to be the easiest to get. Fortunately 3 of us chose cold and GG decided on a cappuccino which took almost 10 minutes longer than ours.

Panathenaic Stadium

Panathenaic Stadium

It was now after 4.30pm so time to head back to the Hotel for a swim, shower and get ready to head back to the Plaka for a wander round the markets and shops before dinner. The Plaka was a leisurely 15 minute walk from our hotel.

We decided to dine at Kapyatie Restaurant beside Ydria Cafe where we dined on our last visit. The food was good and the service wasn’t too bad either although the wine I thought I was choosing was positively awful. It was called a Moscato and those of you who know me well know any Moscato on the menu is for me. So we asked if it was a wine with a bit of spritz, ‘yes’ came the reply from the waiter. When the wine was poured and tasted it was a ‘sticky’ not a moscato as I knew it and was not to my liking at all. Needless to say I wouldn’t be falling over after one glass of wine this evening.

I must also say, dear readers, I did not succumb to temptation in the shopping district. I thought about it but I wasn’t interested in souvenirs ……had purchased enough during previous visits. Clothing and shoes are always of interest but thought I’d have a better look tomorrow.

Wandered back to the hotel around 10.3opm….again a leisurely stroll back window shopping as we went. Not a lot of people around once you move out of the Plaka district but felt quite safe.

We have a couple of hours tomorrow before we need to be at the airport for our flight to Santorini.

*************************************

Up a little later this morning, breakfast at 8am , had plans for going shopping, but forgot it’s Sunday and shops do not open in Europe on Sunday’s. Plaka stores are open but it was the ‘normal’ clothing stores I wanted. Missed my chance……so completed my packing, Lord Lunchalot came to our room for coffee. He didn’t have a coffee maker in his room which caused him some distress. Packing process done we moved to the pool bar for a decent coffee combined with some sunshine and Internet time. When ordering the coffee we were told the machine needed 10 minutes to heat up, ‘Ok, we have time’ said LL to the waitress. Twenty minutes later we cancelled the coffee – I had arranged a van to pick us up rather than a squishy taxi. Cost for a new, clean Mercedes van was 80€ …..well worth it between 4 of us.

Our flight to Santorini was leaving Athens at 1.20pm.

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