London to Athens – May 23
We flew out of Stanstead airport north of London on Aegean Airlines. To make a 10:20 AM flight we set an alarm for 5:30 AM. We took the underground to the Liverpool station and a caught the 7:40 AM Stanstead Express. We arrived at Stanstead at around 8:20 and by the time we checked in and made it through security we only waited a few minutes before our flight boarded. I was surprised how busy this airport was. We stood in line waiting to check in looking at all the other wonderful places that people were flying.
Flying into Athens the landscape reminded me of the golden (brown) hills of Northern California.
We arrived in the Athens airport and were immediately hit by the smell of cigarette smoke as we entered the terminal. I guess Greece has not joined the anti-smoking bandwagon yet. Joan’s suitcase lost a leg somewhere between London and Athens (for the second time as it broke but was fixed by Holland America last November). We had to try a second ATM to get euros as the first one required a smart chip in the ATM card.
It was simple to get on the Athens Metro at the airport and ride it into town although since we got in around rush hour the train got very crowded by the time we got downtown. We rode the subway to the Metaxourgeio station in the neighborhood where we were staying which was not the nicest neighborhood in Athens. We saw more of it than we should have because my “short cut” led us 5 blocks out of our way.
Our hotel was inexpensive (around 60 euros a night) but that was probably a bit too cheap. The Hotel Albion smelled of smoke of course, but the elevator and room also had more of a mold or mildew smell. The elevator had a very definitive way of stopping and starting that worked better if you bent your knees to cushion the shock. The room had 4 beds and a large bathroom, but the bathroom had no shower stall, just a shower and a drain the the floor. At least two of the beds had cigarette burns on the sheets. There was a quite large balcony and the room was better when we opened the 3 sliding glass doors. The hotel did have a fast Internet connection, the air conditioning worked, and the TV got at least one channel in English (and a few porn).
We ate out at a local restaurant which was almost empty but my Souvlaki was good. The bill came to the right amount but strangely had nothing to do with what we ordered. The waitress had done this intentionally, much to our surprise. We walked some on the busy Konstantinou street which was well lit and well trafficked. It was a mixture of shops, restaurants, the national theatre, a porn theatre and a sex shop or two. At night a few of the newsstands at Plateia Omonoias spread out their porn displays.
When we got back to the room we shared the laptop and the Internet connection and watched some old Steven Segal movie because it was in English. We found out that with the schedule for ferries and flights to Santorini we either had to leave in the middle of the night on Monday morning or catch a ferry earlier than we had planned on Sunday afternoon. Could we see everything we wanted to see before then? Our hotel did encourage a faster departure. We also were unable, to our surprise, to actually book a ferry online. We found a hotel in Santorini we liked but needed to work out our travel plans first.
Athens – May 24
The hotel served breakfast from 8 AM to 9 AM so we got up at a decent time and ate the full (if uninspired) breakfast of bread, a boiled egg, a small croissant, cheese and ham. We were the only ones at breakfast.
We got a day pass for the metro which only cost 3 euros each. We never saw anyone checking tickets on the Metro. We grabbed a train to the metro station in the Monastiraki neighborhood. We strolled through the flea market area on the way to the Ancient Agora. We bought a day ticket to all the ancient sites for 12 euros (vs 3 euroes for each site). Liz was free because she is a student.
We decided, on Joan’s recommendation, to hike up the Acropolis first before the day got any warmer. It looked quite far up and the day was already warm. We were surprised that it did not seem like that bad a hike. Smart vendors sold cold water, parasols and postcards to hot tourists. There were places to stop like a large marble (slick) rock with a view of the Agora and city. We saw Mars Hill where the book of Acts talks about the Apostle Paul speaking to the Athenians. We also stopped to look at the ancient theatre (Herodes Atticus). Between the breaks and the ever swelling crowd of tourists the hike was slow enough that we did not get winded. We did get separated in the melee with large tour groups. Smokers and the very over-weight seemed littered along the side of the route. Once the climb was over there was plenty of space at the top of the acropolis for all the tourists. There were also facilities, drinking water and a nice breeze. I was glad we had come in May instead of the heat of August. The Parthenon is covered with scaffolding as they effect repairs on the structure but that did not distract from the fact that we were at the Parthenon! This seems like one of those places to see before you die and did not disappoint. The view of Athens was also incredible.
We hiked back down. Joan’s knee was now sore and swollen (she has had knee surgery to try and grow more cartilage). We explored the Agora some before we found a lunch place just off the Agora. The people watching alone was worth the price of admission as we watched the stream of locals and tourists alike. We ate at a restaurant that featured crepes but seriously suspect they might only have one crepe pan as the crepes came one at a time at ten minute intervals. Liz was fashion shopping for dresses on the passersby.
In the early afternoon we shopped our way through the Plaka. Joan and Liz both found affordable jewelry but did not end up buying any of the sandals for 5 euros. Meanwhile I would pop in a out of the other ancient sites along the route like the tower of the winds in the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library. After shopping from one end of the Plaka to the other we stopped for ice cream and then headed through the National Gardens to Syntagma square to watch the guards (and show of tourists) at the tomb of the unknown soldier.
We stopped at a ferry company on way but they only had an early morning ferry to Santorini so we hopped on the metro again to the port at Piraeus where we were able to book passage on a 1 PM fast ferry on Hellenic Seaways. To get seats in Non-smoking we had to buy VIP seats but that was still cheaper than flying and the time was much more convenient. They were not able to book a ferry from Santorini, only from Pireaus which again surprised us.
On the way to the hotel Joan bought a replacement suitcase from a local vendor. By the time we got back to the hotel for a rest before dinner I had sweated so much in the warm weather that I had gone through several bottles of water and had a layer of salt on the back of my shirt. Again, I am glad we came in May instead of the heat of the Summer.
After a break we headed back to Monastiraki for dinner at a restaurant that had been in the family for 6 generations. It seemed like they could still learn a few things as they did not seem to number tables so people would walk around with someone’s dinner calling out “Souvlaki!” , “Mousakas!” or “Pasticio!”. Joan ordered the Pastisio which I think is close to what we used to call “hot dish” where I grew up.
Joan tried to get enough towels for each of us for morning as they only seem to put two hand towels in the room everyday but they said they were out (even though the hotel seems practically empty). The only TV show in English was Rambo when we returned to the hotel, so we watched that, surfed the web and booked a hotel in Santorini.
Athens to Santorini – May 25
Liz was up half the night scratching bug bites which she had received in Athens. We all seemed to have been munched on to some degree.
I got up at 8 AM and skipped the hotel breakfast for a croissant on the way to the National Archeology Museum which was the last site on my short list for Athens. I enjoyed seeing the museum, especially watching the evolution of Greek sculpture from the early forms into the classic period. It is quite a large museum and easy to get lost in. I was able to see some of the murals from the Minoan civilization from the dig near our hotel on Santorini.