Athens

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Please just let us leave!

Published January 8, 2016 by jillamatt

If you have read about our Santorini experience (Santorini or Bust(Ed)! part 1 & part 2), you likely won’t be surprised that we had no qualms with leaving. 

Don’t get me wrong!  It’s an absolutely STUNNING place, and I would still be dying of curiosity of what it looked like in real life, if we hadn’t have gone there to see it, especially since we were already so close. 

But, when we woke up the morning of our flight, we just REALLY wanted to get the heck off that island!

The day we were leaving Paros Island, to come to Santorini, we asked the ferry company what the schedule was like back to Athens. 

We had 2 options. One of them was a 14 hour ferry ride, arriving in Athens at around 8:30pm, and the other was an 8 hour ride, arriving at 11:30pm. 

We discussed the options, and quite frankly didn’t like either one. The 14 hour option left first thing in the morning, meaning a whole day spent on the ferry, and the 8 hour option got us in very late at night, making it awkward to get to our Air BnB that we had booked. Plus we would be flying out at 8:00 the next morning, and already knew we needed to be on the metro by 5:30am. 

I pulled up cheapoair.com on my mobile, just to see what flight prices might be as an alternative option.  I found a flight through Ryan Air that was going to cost us collectively about $60 more than if we were to take the ferry. We felt at that moment that it was a justified expense, and would get us in to Athens at 9:30am, a much more appropriate arrival time, and only a 50 minute flight.   Sweet deal!  We were stoked with our decision, and I booked the flights right away. 

So, the morning of our departure from Santorini, we had to fork over another 15 Euros for an airport transfer through our hotel. A taxi MAY have been cheaper, but likely not, and the bus…..well, we didn’t exactly trust the bus schedule anymore. Again, it was an inflated price for the length of the trip, less than 10 minutes. 

Now, we do realize that we weren’t exactly on Santorini during an ideal travel time. Although the off season is nice for lack of people, I can imagine that things run a lot more smoothly when it’s high season, and also not the Christmas season. I’m quite sure that it would be a wonderful vacation destination, although likely still quite expensive.  We just chalked up everything to another learning experience, and will try not to make the same mistakes again. 

Either way, we were off to the airport!

We arrived in plenty of time and immediately saw our line to check in. We approached the desk and the lady asked for our boarding passes. I said I didn’t have them as we had booked online with my cell phone. She told us that an email had been sent telling us to check in online and that it was mandatory. You either needed to have a printed boarding pass from your computer, or you can check in with your mobile, and just show her the boarding pass on your screen, and apparently that is good enough. (However, we later learned that ONLY European Union citizens are able to do the mobile check in option with Ryan Air.)

Now! I have traveled on many different airlines (but as stated before, not in many years), and had never HAD to check in online before. Often times you can do it IF YOU WANT TO, and that is what I assumed the email was all about. Quite frankly I didn’t even read it. 

She also informed me that we hadn’t paid for our checked luggage. Okay……guess I missed that memo as well in the booking process. Whoops!  She crossed our name off of some list, filled out some papers for me to give to the airport services lady, and then directed us to her desk.  

We arrived at the counter and gave her our paperwork, still stunned with what the heck was going on. This certainly was not anything I had experienced before. She typed some stuff in a computer, and looked up to me. 

“That will be 224 Euros.”  She said. (PS. This equals $360 CAD!)

Whaaaaaaaaattttttttt??????   I think my eyes literally bulged out of my head. 

“What???  How much did you say??”

She repeated the number and then went on to explain that the “printing” of the boarding passes would be 50 Euros each, and the luggage was 62 Euros for each checked bag. She also told me that the instructions were very clear on the email that I should have gotten. 

I looked at Chris who was now red with anger and completely beside himself. Who am I kidding?  We were both beside ourselves with anger. What the hell was it going to take to get us off of this, what we had now deemed,  godforesaken island???

After a brief discussion about forgetting the flight all together, and catching the ferry instead, I sheepishly slid my VISA card across the counter at her. She HANDWROTE 2 boarding passes for us, happily charged our card and we proceeded to our gate. 

Not much was said between us getting to the gate and getting on our flight. We were both exhausted and stunned with the crazy turn of events that the last few days had presented, and couldn’t help but think we had somehow been punished for not sticking to our original plan of going to Peloponnese. However, what was done was done, and we were just happy to get off the island, and continue on with our journey. 

 

Goodbye Santorini!!!

 We had a spectacular flight to Athens and I marvelled at the views of the islands below. I couldn’t help but think that we would have to return to Greece some day to see more of what this country is about. But would need some time to recover from this trip, that’s for sure! 

Such a spectacular view!

   
We spent the night in Athens at the Air BnB I had booked while on Paros.  It was located in an entirely different part of the city, and it was a much calmer and more peaceful neighbourhood than what we had experienced in the down town section, close to the Acropolis.  

The Monastiraki metro station.

  

Lots of plant life on the balconies in this area of Athens.

  

Lots of trees and a much quieter neighbourhood.

 Having timed our journey on the metro from the airport after arriving from Santorini, we knew that we needed about an hour and 10 minutes to get back to the airport the next morning. 

Our flight was at 8:20, so we figured if we caught the metro around 5:30, we would get to the airport close to the recommended 90 minute advance arrival time. 

Unfortunately, we underestimated our walk to the metro, and also stopped to grab a coffee, so we didn’t get there until about 5:50. We bought our tickets, good for 70 minutes, and we were off. 

We caught the train, and started the process of heading to the airport. Our one train change went smoothly, and we knew that we were on our way. 

However, about 5 stops away from the airport, our train stopped, everyone got off and the lights turned off. ‘Ummmmmmmmm…….okay, I guess we better get off as well.’ I thought. 

Chris WAS NOT impressed as we stumbled off with our bags, completely confused. To make matters worse, when we exited the train, a digital sign hung above us announcing that the next train for the airport would be there in 24 minutes!

Ack!!!!  Now things were getting worriesome!  It was now 6:30, and we had another 15-20 minutes to go on the train before we got to the airport. We were both annoyed by these changes in our plans, but at that point there wasn’t much we could do about it. Trying to catch a cab would likely take longer, and we didn’t want to start trying to find alternatives. 

Chris was incensed!  I don’t think I have ever seen him quite so angry!  We both felt that if we missed the flight because of this, we would start swimming to Italy!  By now we wanted out of Greece so bad, it wasn’t even funny. 

And to top it off, our 70 minute tickets that we had purchased, would be expired by the time we got to the airport. I couldn’t help but think that that would be the real icing on the cake!  But, in the state I was in, I wouldn’t wish trying to deal with attempting to charge me for an invalid ticket, on my worse enemy!  I briefly thought about running up the stairs while we waited, to purchase tickets that would lengthen our validation time. But I dismissed it hoping that if in fact we got asked, they would let us off due to this unexpected turn of events. 

We sat and sat and stared at the digital clock, counting down the minutes one by one. Of course, it wasn’t exactly 24 minutes, and the clock would jump from 9 minutes, to 10 minutes, and then back to nine again, and so on. I think it finally arrived at about 5 after 7:00. 

We finally borded the train and proceeded to the airport, with much relief that we were finally on our way.  However, after about 5 minutes, the train stopped and sat in the dark tunnels, somewhere under Athens, for what seemed like eternity, but was likely only 5 minutes. 

Chris and I just kept looking at each other in disbelief, but encouraging ourselves to take deep breaths. We had a plan to move as fast as we could towards the check in counter, as soon as the train stopped. 

I don’t even know exactly when we got there, but we jumped off that train and took off as fast as our legs could carry us, with the huge backpacks on our backs. By then I had reasoned that what will be will be, and we just needed to move!

We checked in and got our boarding passes from the electronic kiosk, then proceeded to the counter to check our baggage. Of course, there was a fee (although thankfully we were now flying with Aegan Air), and I slid my Visa card to the lady, not even wanting to know what it was costing. However, she did announce that it was 30 Euros each. 

I said that was fine, and felt like saying we don’t care anymore, JUST GET US OUT OF HERE!!

She said “This charge is only  good for one way.”  We laughed and both exclaimed at once “Oh we only intend to go one way!”

By then we were not only officially done with Santorini, we were absolutely FINISHED with Greece altogether!

She told us boarding was at 7:40, at which time I let out a bit of a laugh because guess what!?  It was 7:40 right then!!!

We zoomed off to our gate and cleared security with ease, thankfully!  We arrived as they were announcing boarding for first class. We had enough time to hit the bathroom and that was it!

As the plane took off, we high fived each other and celebrated the fact that we had made it!  We were getting the heck out of there, and were bound for Italy. A whole new adventure awaited, and we knew that it was all downhill from there!

Next up we spend 4 nights in Northern Italy to spend New Years with a good friend from Canada!

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A Small Taste of Athens

Published December 20, 2015 by jillamatt

After hearing some different stories about Athens, from various people who had been there previously, we were actually pleasantly surprised with the city. 

It’s no secret that Greece is going through incredible economic hardships, but there aren’t really any visible signs of it, at least not to they eye of a passerby. 

We had the odd beggar wanting money for this or that, but you encounter that abundantly in Canadian cities as well. We never REALLY felt targeted as tourists, and we were able to safely meander the streets and take in tourist sights, and the local markets alike. 

Having only one day in Athens meant that our priority was to visit the Acropolis. I had read in my guide book that the Acropolis literally stares down on the entire city of Athens. Much to my disappointment, when we exited our hotel in the morning, I couldn’t see it anywhere. We were located smack dab in the middle of a jazillion high rises, so it took some effort to snake our way towards it, before we finally caught glimpse of this famous spectacle. 

 

Looking up to the Acropolis.

 
Perched on top of a magnificent marble mountain, it really does look over the entire city, like some sort of guardian taking care of the people. We referenced our map and wound our way through the streets until we came to the base of the entrance. 

   
   

Narrow steets and pathways wind their way up to the base of the Acropolis.

   I must say, the Acropolis is not for the faint of heart. A steep hillside rises up to the base, and then stairs provide access to it. There is no wheel chair access (unless you take the cage lift up the rock face), and I can imagine, for many elderly people, and those not in the best of shape, it could be a difficult climb. Not too mention when you get to the top, it isn’t exactly a nice flat surface that you can stroll around on. Jagged marble, it’s rough edges rounded off over centuries of wear, juts out once you leave the proper pathway. More than once I almost tripped on my face as I gawked at the immensity of the Parthenon, while still trying to walk. Not a good idea!  I finally suggested that we take a seat on one of the nearby benches, and just sit and look for a while.  

Stairway to the entrance.

  

First glimpse of the Parthenon.

  

The light glistens off the shiny, worn down marble at the summit.

 The Parthenon, meaning ‘virgins apartment’, was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, by the people of Athens.  It took 15 years to build (starting in 447BC) and is built entirely of Pentelic Marble. The 17 pillars were absolutely awe inspiring! They are officially Doric columns, and are slightly narrower at the top of the pillar, than they are at the base. The base measures 1.9 metres across, and they are 10.4 metres high.  Truly massive!  They have been fluted all the way up, providing an even more incredible definition to what is already pretty incredible to begin with. Obviously there are other buildings on site, but the Parthenon was by far, the biggest spectacle of them all.  

With the man in the foreground, this gives an idea of the scale of the pillars and the structure itself.

    
 I think what struck me the most about it all, was the fact that they are continuously restoring it. It’s been ongoing for a long time, AT LEAST since the early 1900’s. I can imagine that people are spending their whole lives work, helping to recreate a piece of history. 

I was also struck with HOW they are managing to fit new pieces of marble, into old pieces of marble, lift it up, keep the structure secure…….all of it is just so mind blowing. The pictures will show you just how accurate this procedure is.  

New marble in white, meets old marble in yellow.

  

Men working on the pillars with power tools. Not exactly like they did 400+BC.

 
We walked around up top, investigating all that we could. We stopped at a lookout spot and gazed out over the incredible sprawling city below. We felt the rush of adrenaline as we craned our neck over the rock wall, that one must have felt, being important enough to stand up there and gaze out over the “commoners”. I envisioned cobble  stone streets, donkeys pulling carts, bright and colourful displays of vegetables being sold in the streets, and far, far less buildings. As it stands now, there are buildings as far as the eye can see, like a gentle white wash covering the land and hillsides.  

 We meandered down from the upper portion, eager to get a taste of the quaint little streets that we could see from above, and literally stumbled smack dab into the Acropolis Museum. And we are so happy that we did!  It is a site to behold in itself.  

   
The floor to the entrance, and parts of the floor inside the doors, is made of a thick plexiglass glass, that allows you to see the excavated, original, architectural sites below. Frames of stone buildings could be seen 10-12 feet below our feet, and it really gave a sense of what the scene would have been like 400+BC.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take pictures inside. 

We meandered through many relics that had been excavated from the Acropolis site that rose above it.  Impossibly intricate carvings dotted the landscape inside, and many bits of ancient pottery, tools, and vessels lined the cases on the walls. 

After watching a short documentary on the basic history of the Acropolis, we made our way upstairs to bear witness to the ‘piece de resistance’. The upper floor was an exact size replica of the top of the Parthenon, basically the part that is no longer visible on the real thing. Having been smashed to bits by various vandals and wars, I am assuming it was in many pieces, but they have managed to recreate what it would have looked like, had it been standing. Plaster has been used to fill in areas that were no longer, but the parts that were original, were a thing to behold. The carvings from marble were unbelievably detailed, and I can only imagine that 100’s of workers must have been working on it, for it to be built in 15 years. 

We left feeling so very lucky to have bared witness to such an incredible engineering, artistic, and simply stupefying marvel of the ancient world. 

As we had stumbled across a couple markets in our way up, we were eager to get back to those and check them out. The Monastiraki flea market was at the base of the Acropolis, and although mostly tourist driven, it was an interesting sight none-the-less. Little shops led from from the level of the narrow alleyways, and small staircases carried you up or down to tiny little shops with eager vendors manning them. We stopped for a little bite to eat with one of the street side vendors, and ate the most amazing food. Chris had a real Greek gyro, and I had some pork souvlaki with the most incredible tzaziki that I’m sure I will ever taste. There is nothing like the real thing!! 

Yummy!

  

Eager for food!

   

One thing is for sure in Greece. Wine is cheap and readily available!

  We also were eager to bear witness to more of a locals market. We had seen one in our way to the Acrpolis, and were able to find it once again. Here we found an incredible abundance of fruits and vegetables, eggs, olives, olives and more olives, and a couple incredible antique stalls. Two that come to mind were literally piled so high with different antiques and trinkets, that if you pulled something out from the bottom, you were likely to be killed in an avalanche of stuff. It was unreal! 

  

Yup, those are olives!

  
 

Perfectly stacked Fruits, Vegetables and Nuts.

 
 

A little bit of everything, literally, and this is just the outside!!

 
  We walked along one of the main streets called Ermou street. Along it we found many coffee shops, furniture shops, restaurants and just interesting things to look at. We stumbled into one of the coffee shops and had “Greek Coffees”, the Greek equivalent to the Turkish coffees we had in the Istanbul airport. This time we were wiser, and left the coffee grounds for the compost pile!  

We buzzed our way back towards our hotel, and our afternoon was rounded out with a stop in an incredible patisserie. The smell that was emitting from this shop was to die for, and we knew that we would not be leaving without buying something. We managed to find some simply adorable mousses (meese??), and scurried back to our hotel room to devour them.  

 
We ventured out a little later on for dinner. The receptionist pointed us to a traditional Greek restaurant that was located about 10 blocks away. We had a great dinner that was capped off with a complimentary serving of local Raki. The waiter said it is also made with grapes, but it is incredibly potent!  We prefer to call it the local hooch! 

RAKI!

 
**I apologize for the delay between posts. My access to wifi has been limited, and is unreliable when I do get it. **

Up next, we zip off to The Island of Paros!

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