Aegean Airlines provided a smooth ride and a decent hot meal for our flight from Rome to Athens. Flying over the Ionian and Aegean Sea gave us a great aerial view of the Greek isles and the Port of Piraeus where the lucky ladies we were traveling with would depart in a few days to go their own way to the island of Santorini to bask in the relaxation only sun and sea can offer. Focusing on a few days exploring Athens together, we landed at Athens International Airport and the four of us made our way to the train station, figured out the route and headed to the Omonia stop for the walk to Hotel Aristotoles. The clerk who checked us in was a bit frazzled and arriving after dark we felt a little “shadiness” about the neighborhood. We went to our rooms on the same floor and upon entering we found them to be tiny and the girls room was a bit stale smelling but after further inspection (clean bedding; decent towels) we all decided that at $38 American a night, what could we expect, we would be fine. We remedied the smell issue once I got the brilliant idea to poor water into the dry floor drain and after battling an initial cold shower until the girls figured out the plumbing handles, all in all we were satisfied, especially because our mindset was to spend very little time in the rooms. And, it was $38 a night. Haha. #semibudgetconscioussomehow
It was late enough and the long last day prior in Rome had us dragging booty a bit so we headed out to the corner of our hood for a bite to eat. We found a Syrian run kebab and falafel type place named Zhnobia and settled in by an Iraqi couple who gave us menu recommendations and offered tastes of their own. My honey ordered up a variety and we enjoyed every bite. Perusing this menu as well as all the signs we had seen so far led us to know that we would be much more challenged by the language barrier here. (All was in Greek, which has its own alphabet, so there wasn’t even any guessing!) But,as we are finding in our travels people are really good and nice at heart and friendliness and genuine courtesy go a long way! After dinner, we made a trip to the neighborhood convenience store, got an electrical adaptor to fit the inset style socket in our room, some bottled water and my girlfriend and I opted for a Greek brew (founded the year of my birth 😉 for our sleeping aid. We did find out from the shop keeper that the neighborhood (and furthermore all of Athens) were viewed as safe from violent crime but that refugees seeking to pick pocket “papers” and “identities” were a concern and even more so in the wee hours of the morning. He warned us to be aware of our surroundings and protect our personal belongings and to worry no more than that. We thanked him for his friendly advice and headed back to chat a bit and call it a day so we could strike out to discover this city the following morning.
We woke and showered after our included breakfast was done for the day 🙁 so we headed next door to Sweet Coffee, a quaint little shop we frequented over the next couple days. The coffee and baked goods were perfect and cheap and the girls behind the counter were super hospitable! We enjoyed lattes, americanos and cappuccino as well as cheese pastries, pizzas and sandwiches on our stops here.
Fortified, we started out to discover the city. We were amazed by the bustling of the neighborhood and in awe of the extensive street art we were surrounded by. As we wandered, we chatted with shop keeps and instantly found an ease of camaraderie with the people. We did see, as we had in Rome, many refugee street hawkers who were very invasive and demanding of the purchase of their junk souvenirs even putting an item in your hand and insisting it was free, plying you with compliments and stories to create pity, therefore obligation, therefore money from your pocket to theirs. It worked on all of us…once. Don’t let it happen to you. Just say no thank you, no thank you, no thank you and soon they will go away wishing you blessings and a good day. Learn from our school of hard knocks! Street mimes and musicians also entertained us on our way. We took in the beauty of the city hall, its square and nearby churches.
Our destination this beautiful, sunny, warm, 70+ degree day (as they all were from the time the girls joined us) was the Acropolis. We caught site of it and I snapped a couple pictures as a store proprietor pointed us in the direction of the best location to enter. He shared stories of his singing for birthdays and weddings and gave us his best Elvis impersonation. Thanking him we started our ascent. Cobblestone streets with roof top eateries winding across the hillside led us to the ticket office. We were enchanted by the spring flowering trees and the tortoises who crossed our path on this ancient ground. History and our overall lack of detailed knowledge of it was driven home in these surroundings. No matter how many google searches I did over the holidays as the snow fell outside, I could have never absorbed all there is to relate to in the history tales of these cities we visited. We passed the Theatre of Dionysus and saw views of ancient castles, fortresses, Gothic cathedrals, the city and the sea. Soon, we climbed the marble stairway to the Parthenon. Impressive is a mild word for this ancient masterpiece but as was the case in Rome and now inAthens, we felt somewhat misled about the “wonder” of these landmarks. We read the story on the adjacent placard that the Parthenon was completely destroyed in 1687 AD and was completely rebuilt to the best of the ability of the day, using historical records and then has been continuously rehabilitated and reinforced over time. This is the story we heard from our tour guide regarding the Coliseum and parts of the Forum as well. Somehow this knowledge took some of the mystique away. They are definitely magnificent accomplishments but we all agreed we had thought they simply stood the test of time. We did not realize how much was continually done to keep these gigantic money makers alive. Tourism booms with entry fees, souvenirs, meals, hotel rooms, etc, etc. Cities depend on these coffers being filled to exist. We threw cynical thought to the side and enjoyed the romance of the history and the beauty of the views instead. A bit of souvenir shopping back at the base and then we were off through the streets of the heart of the city to enjoy our first truly Greek meal. We found a sidewalk seat in a bustling neighborhood at a place called All That Jatz where we could people watch and dine at the same time. Here we tasted our first saganaki. Oh my, the indulgence of pan fried cheese! We enjoyed grilled lamb chops; lamb kebab; mousaka and grilled vegetables with an assortment of Greek brews and some wine. Our “dogs were barking” and we had designated this a day we MUST drink the large format bottle of wine my honey had coveted and therefore purchased. We had been hauling this jug with us since Little Italy San Diego, before Ft Lauderdale, before the two week cruise, which it was intended for but not allowed due to size and therefore confiscated and returned at disembarkation. We knew we could not consume this on our own without several days to do it in so we saved it for “when the girls get here.” Time and jet lag had not presented an opportunity in Rome, so, it had also flown to Athens! It was the end of the road for this luggage weight hog! Hahahahaha. Back to the room we went to hang out, consume and sleep!
( No, we didn’t really drink out of the bottle we just couldn’t resist the pic above 😉
Rising slowly again on our second day in this capital city, our daughter opted out on a walking adventure due to fatigue. (Maybe it was the wine; she says not 😉 We teased her about not being able to keep up with us! Although, a quick tally shows me we clocked 18.6 miles from Thursday pm to Sunday pm. If you are not accustomed to 5+ miles a day (and alcohol consumption :-/) you are allowed to be off the hook, I guess! This lovely day was spent taking in Saturday on the Syntagma Square in front of Parliament, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its guards, a walk in the National Garden, on to a view of the Prime Minister’s home and the Panathenaic Stadium, built as an Olympic venue. We were close to going to the Acropolis Museum but it was nearing closing time so we stopped for a Greek Salad and spent time shopping on the market street where my honey found a beautiful brass, wood and marble chess board he will cherish to play games and hone the minds of our grandchildren with. I have to mention that the dress shops in this city wowed the feminine side of me more than any others I window shopped throughout Europe. I threatened that the next “dress up” event I have to attend I am coming straight back to Athens to shop!
Ouzo, a traditional Greek aperitif served up, with ice cubes and water to be added to taste. Delicious!
The hubster and I were determined to check out the night life and the girls decided to join us for some bar hopping at least until 3am when they Ubered it home and we continued on with new friends we had made over beers, great free bar snacks of olives and nuts and good flat earth/conspiracy conversation. (Many of you who know him will think my hubby instigated this conversation, but on the contrary our new Greek friends did!) The nightlife in Greece entertained us long enough that we watched the washing of the streets on our semi-staggering walk home at dawn and allowed us to take advantage of breakfast at the hotel! It was tasty and after we stuffed ourselves, we fell into bed laughing hysterically about being the only ones in the crowded dining room who had not been to bed yet!
Not being ones to sluff off precious time in a city of only a few days stay, we made do with a nap and were ready to hit the streets shortly after noon. This is when we discovered my friend was taking a break from walking and staying behind to chill in the room. Of course my honey had to riddle her with jokes about not keeping up! Our regular coffee shop was closed on Sundays but the city was not short on other spots so our daughter joined us and we found a nice little place nearby, ordered cheese pies and cappuccinos and settled at an outdoor table to basque in the sunshine and shake the cobwebs. We decided to follow a similar path as the day prior and show our girl some of the sites we took in while she was absent. We were lucky enough to arrive at Parliament at the precise time of the changing of the guard which was quite the ritual to take in and well worth the second trip for us. Intentionally we had purchased a higher dollar ticket at the Acropolis window, all of us with the understanding that it included the admission fee of the museum as well as the site itself. The three of us headed that direction but upon our arrival the guard directed us to another ticket booth and pointed to small print on our tickets; the main museum not included. To this minute we would all agree we were ripped off somehow but, ah well hangovers and museums probably don’t go together anyway! Instead, we took in more of the architecture and wandered into the beauty of Greek Orthodox places of worship.
Santorini via the ferry which left the harbor at 7am the following morning. We went for simple dinner of chicken slouvaki and doner and then made a point to stop by one of the big bakeries adjacent to Syntagma Square on the way home. I got a 6 pack of cookies; hand dipped chocolate and baklava. My mouth just watered writing that sentence! Seriously my biggest downfall, fresh pastries and desserts and these were some of the tastiest (although Budapest and Paris don’t fall far behind)! I hung out with the girls while they packed and hugged them tight, thanked them for the unforgettable experiences together and wished them a great rest of their vacation. They would be off before sunrise via Uber to the Paraeus Ferry to Santorini for a few days stay. As crazy as it sounds, with all the adventure we have had and still had in store, I was envious of their trek off to the sea!
The next morning found us packing up as well with a late checkout request because our next flight did not leave until late afternoon. We had only one task at hand. We had a nearly nine kilogram chess board wrapped only in bubble wrap to ship! There was no way to carry it the rest of the European tour without buying another bag and paying for it via each of the remaining airlines. ($$$$) We had planned for this at purchase, but felt certain we would come across a shipping store; no such luck! This simply added one more adventure to the many created by my sometimes unconventional husband! We had located the post office the evening before and headed back there hoping they would sell shipping materials. Nope. The Hellenic Postal clerk pointed us towards a paper store nearby…no luck. I did however watch a shop keeper from the square take a box to a set of dumpsters at the end of the walk way…so yes indeed my friends, I certainly did go dumpster diving in Greece! Luckily, I had hung on to the rest of the roll of packing tape from shipping things home from Cali that we didn’t need after Thailand and had it stowed in my bag “just in case”. This box I “found” was odd shaped, like for long stemmed flowers maybe. Fortunately it did have some padded packing wrap inside as well so I went to work on the sidewalk in one of the busiest squares in Athens breaking down the obscure box and creating my own for this beautiful chess board. I was not satisfied it was protected enough so back to the dumpster… no luck, so I went in a nearby grocery store and the nicest manager ever went and found me a box fitting the description I provided! I offered enough Euro for an after work beer or glass of wine in appreciation but he just laughed and said “Is a gift to me you take it!” Back to the sidewalk and with a few muttered expletives my masterpiece was ready! Inside the post office we got the postage taken care of and shipped it off. Hahahahaha. Lucky for my honey I love my grandkids so much (and that he was correct it was half the price the vendor had quoted to ship it)! Job well done and it is a memento we will truly cherish. (It has been received at our daughters home in Meridian all safe and sound!) We headed back to the hotel to retrieve our bags and commiserated about our sadness in leaving. We really enjoyed Athens, a very diverse, welcoming city.
Next up, Budapest! #cometravelwithme
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