Athens, Greece

October 2014

We flew from Gatwick South Terminal with Easyjet to Athens airport. It was an afternoon flight so we got good views of the landscape beneath us. However we did not expect to see another Easyjet plane flying parallel to us at what seemed less than the regulation 5 miles nor did we expect to see a fighter jet fly through the middle of both planes at a very high speed. As we got off the plane we asked the Captain about the incident but he was very reluctant to talk and blanked us completely.

We arrived at 8pm Greek time and took the X96 bus to Piraeus on the outskirts of Athens. We were advised by the bus driver to get off at the station and take a taxi to our hotel and we took his advice.

We had booked 4 nights at the Hotel Mistral in Piraeus. Although reviews on the hotel were not great we liked the look of the roof bar and so had booked through The room was fine although a bit noisy as there was a constant whining noise and the balcony was not really a balcony at all and overlooked other rooms.

Day One Athens

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard, Athens

We had breakfast at our hotel then took a taxi to the Syntagma region of Athens where the Parliament Building (Vouli) is located. We reached the area at about 10.30am and found a good position to watch the changing of the guard which was scheduled for 11am.

The spectacle and ceremony of this event is definitely worth seeing if you are in Athens on a Sunday. Accompanied by a Police band the guardsmen march from their barracks to the Vouli in strict formation and dressed in their national dress.

After performing some manoeuvres the two guards on duty were changed for two new guards. The national anthem was played and then they marched back to their barracks.

We left the Syntagma region and took a leisurely walk to the Monastiraki region which is famous for its range of outdoor stalls and flea markets. We wandered around the stalls and tables looking at a vast array of souvenirs, trinkets, jewellery and second-hand goods.

Towering above the Monastiraki Square are the ruins of the Acropolis and Parthenon.

Parthenon Greece

We decided not to visit the ruins directly but rather to climb to the top of the Filopappou Hill where it is possible to see the iconic view of the Parthenon.

View of Parthenon from opposite hill

The path to the top of the hill is quite steep but their are resting places along the way and we found it very pleasant to take our time and stop frequently to take in the stunning views.

We descended the hill on the opposite side and found ourselves in a residential area of very steep streets. We walked for a while to get a feel of the area and then, with aching feet crying out for rest we took a taxi back to our hotel.

We had planned to eat at the hotel but after being told off by the hotel manager for taking a bottle of coke and packet of crisps into the hotel we decided to eat out. We found a nice restaurant and enjoyed a kebab platter.

Day Two – Piraeus

We decided to walk to Piraeus this morning and then take the metro into the centre of Athens this afternoon. Piraeus is a port and there are a number of marinas and bays in addition to the main port area.

Piraeus Greece

It was very pleasant walking in the warm sunshine taking in the views of the boats and yachts but after an hour or so our feet started protesting so we decided to take a trolley bus the rest of the way.

We boarded the number 20 bus which serves Piraeus and I approached the bus driver to purchase a ticket only to be told by an English speaking passenger that you have to buy tickets from ticket booths and that the bus driver does not have tickets. This seems a peculiar system because the places you can buy tickets are few and far between.
Tickets for public transport cost €1.20 and are valid for 70 minutes travel on any form of public transport. You can also buy a 24 hour ticket for €4.00

We took the metro from Piraeus to Omonia Square because we wanted to take a look at the fruit and cheese stalls. We also purchased a bigger bag so that the hotel manager would not be able to see what we had with us when we returned to the hotel.

We then made our way to the Athens Adventure Rooms that at the time of writing are listed on Tripadvisor as the no 1 thing to do in Athens.

Adventure Rooms Athens

We had booked the Black Queen adventure in advance. We were given a very warm welcome by the two girls that run the attraction and after using the bathroom and having a drink we were taken into our room.

You have 60 minutes to escape the room by solving an array of puzzles, questions and other lateral thinking exercises. We came very close to completing the game but failed by one puzzle. It was certainly a very unique and enjoyable experience.

Day Three – Greek Islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina

We decided that we would like to see some of the nearby Greek islands and decided that the best way to do this was to book a full day mini cruise. It was not a cheap option at €80.00 euros each but with limited time in Greece it was the only way we could see several islands in one day while enjoying a relaxing day on the water.

We left our hotel at 7.15am in order to get to our boat in good time for the 8am sailing. We had a disagreement with our taxi driver who initially took us to the wrong boat and then tried to charge us for his mistake but nevertheless we arrived in time and took ourselves to the top deck where we found seats with a good view.

We left dock on time and were serenaded with Greek music. Having paid €80.00 for the day trip we were quiet amazed to find that there were no complimentary refreshments, not even water, and that the boat charged €2.80 for a small cup of coffee.

Greek Boat trip

Our first stop was the island of Hydra. There are no motorised vehicles on Hydra and donkeys are used to transport things around the island. There were a number of donkeys standing around the dock area. I thought they looked rather sad and it highlighted the difference between the culture of this island and our English culture which frowns on any form of animal exploitation.

Donkeys on Hydra

We had a look around the town which was very quaint and picturesque but everything for sale had hugely inflated price tags. The sales assistants shadow you the moment you enter the shop which is quite annoying and then very cheerfully tell you that the €100.00 dress is actually half price.

Throughout the four days we spent in Greece we had a real sense of the anger felt by the Greek people at the financial crisis they were in, but also that they were trying to get as much money out of tourists as a sort of pay-back for the trouble that they were in.

Once back on board we had a buffet lunch which was included in the price but there were no drinks included, not even water. After eating we returned to the top deck to enjoy the sunshine.

The second island we visited was Poros. From the boat this appeared to be another very picturesque and quaint town.

Poros Greece

As the day had turned very warm and we decided to stay on the boat and enjoy the warm sunshine while reading our books. This proved to be a good choice because within minutes of leaving Poros the sky had darkened, the winds had increased and by the time we reached Aegina it was pouring with rain.

Storm clouds over Aegina

We had chosen not to pay another €25.00 for a guided tour of Aegina but intended to get off the boat, purchase a bottle of water and then get back on. However, we were told by the crew of the boat that we had to get off the boat and could not get back on for 90 minutes.

By now the rain was even worse so we took shelter in a port side cafe where we drank cups of hot chocolate and watched a Greek soap opera on the cafe television.

Back on board the going was quite rough as the storm continued but by the time we returned to Piraeus the rain had stopped, the wind died down and it was a warm and pleasant evening.

Day Four – Athens Archeological Museum

This was our last day in Athens, so after checking our of our hotel room at midday we took a bus to Piraeus, the metro to Victoria square and then walked the short distance back to the Athens Archeological Museum.

Athens Archeological Museum

The museum is home to an enormous collection of Greek archeological artefacts and spans a history from Prehistoric times onwards.

Because we had to be at Athens airport by 6.30pm our time in the museum was limited to 3 hours. Although this was enough time to get a general overview of the archeological history it was by no means enough time to see everything the museum has to offer. Nevertheless it was well worth the €7.00 entrance fee and it was a wonderful feeling walking through such a vast array of ancient artefacts.

We left the museum at around 5pm and made our way back to Victoria Station where we took the metro to Monastiraki and then changed to take a train to the airport. It was very straightforward and cheap travelling on the metro and I would recommend it for anyone travelling in Athens. Thankfully the flight back was not as eventful as the flight out until we returned to Gatwick when the police were waiting to interview a wanted man who was travelling on the plane.

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