Saturday, September 20th
Nick and I were excited to cross Greece off our "bucket list!"
After driving 3 hours, we arrived in Milan with 2 hours to spare before our flight. If you've read any of my previous blogs you will understand that I love getting to airports with plenty of time!
Nick had decided to bring a bag full of his kiteboarding equipment on the trip just in case there was any wind. We had paid 100 Euro for the 20kg bag. I had asked him the day before if the bag actually weighed 20 kg. He said, "Yeah, it'll be ok." (Famous last words) The Ryanair agent explained that the bag was not 20 kg it actually weighed 27kg, and that we would have to pay 10 Euro for every kg we were over. (That would have been 70 Euro on top of the 100 Euro we had already paid.) Nick started the hour long process of arguing with the agents. Days earlier, he had purchased a "checked bag" not a "sport bag." The sport bag should have cost a total of 120 Euro - not the 100 Euro for the checked bag. The sport bag allows 30kg not just 20kg. I asked if we could just pay the 20 Euro difference. Of course not. That would have been way too easy. They sent us in loops trying to figure out where to go next, who to pay, and WHAT we actually had to pay. Literally an hour later, we had been reimbursed (supposedly) the 100 Euro we had originally paid and we paid the 120 Euro for a 30 kg "sport bag." OY! As a result, Nick will never fly Ryanair again. I on the other hand have had fairly decent experiences with Ryanair mostly because I know that they make their money from people who check their bags and don't follow the rules. The bad part of that story is that they never reimbursed us the 100 Euro - they sent us an email saying they will reimbursed us $70. We still can't figure that one out! And end of rant.
...On to Greece!
We only had about 7 hours in Athens, so we grabbed a taxi to our hotel instead of a bus or metro. The first taxi driver was in a van. He asked where we were headed. "Athena Grehotel," we said. He said he knew every hotel in Athens, but he had never heard of that one. He also said that he would only charge us a flat rate of 120 Euro. HAHAHA! Next!
We found an actual taxi stand that only charged us 30 Euro for the 30 minute ride. That was more like it!
The first part of our drive reminded me a lot of my hometown- Bakersfield, CA. It was arid and dry, but surrounded by rolling hills.
Our driver was so nice and told us all about the history of Athens and made sure to point out the main sites. He also said that originally Athens had beautiful, classic architecture. Their buildings looked similar to ones you would see in Paris. When the city started to expand rapidly they tore down some of the mansions and built cheap apartments to house large amounts of people. It's really a shame. Athens could have been so much prettier!
As we approached our hotel, our taxi driver warned us that we should have stayed in a nicer area. He said there were a lot of immigrants in our part of town. (Whatever that means.) That left a pit in my stomach. We hadn't even seen our hotel yet! The reviews about our hotel were all great! It surprised me that neither of the taxi drivers we'd talked to had heard of our hotel, and then one mentioned it was in a bad part of town. We pulled around the corner; our hotel was beautiful! The bus boy ran out to help us with our bags. The staff was amazing, and our room and the hotel were immaculate. We couldn't have been happier. We were learning not to trust any taxi driver's opinions on hotels.
Again, with just 7 hours in Athens we hit the ground running. We first stopped at the fish market. They were just closing because it was after 3pm. We got some very strange looks as we walked through.
This was one of the less grotesque photos that I can share. :)
Next on our list was "souvlaki row" in the Monastiraki neighborhood on our way to the Acropolis. Souvlaki is pork or chicken on a skewer. It's often eaten in a pita. We stopped at the first stand we spotted. It was only 2 Euro and it certainly didn't disappoint! It had chicken, onion, tomato, tzatziki sauce, and french fries in it. Nick's expression says it all. We almost went back for a second!
On our way to the Acropolis, we walked by the Roman Forum. It wasn't much to look at.
We took a side detour by some souvenir shops. I loved all of the olive wood.
These blue eyes, or Nazars, are sold in most places in Greece. They are to help ward off the "evil eye."I wish I had one of these as a kid. My mom was always giving me the evil eye. :P
Our first spotting of a cat!! Yay!!
We spotted our first dog too! He had a great napping spot overlooking the Ancient Agora below the Acropolis.
By the time we made it to the ticket booth at the Acropolis we both were melting. It was the end of September, but still so warm! Luckily, there was a kiosk selling slushies. I bought a strawberry slushy and Nick bought the lemon flavor. His was really sour and mine was too sweet, so we combined ours. We tried to take them in to the Acropolis with us, but they wouldn't allow it. We stood in the shade for 20 minutes drinking in our frozen drinks.
Once inside, we started our assent! It was so slippery with sandals on!
The first site we came across was the Odeon of Harodes Atticus. This amphitheater was built during Roman times. It seats over 5000 and is still used today. Some Americans call this Yanni's theatre because of his "Yanni at the Acropolis" performance. It makes Greeks shutter.
A lot of people have walked up these steps!
Of course the Greeks couldn't have just ANY entrance into the Acropolis. This one didn't disappoint.
The view looking down at Mars Hill.
We made it! That's the Parthenon!
Annnd...time for a break. :) I slathered on the sunscreen, but my skin was still screaming.
So cool to see it up close!
Nick walked around and took some fun shots while I sat in the shade. :)
That's about 7 acres of flat, limestone.
I love this photo because it looks like I'm walking through the desert in a skirt with a purse. :)
A nice, young couple from Wisconsin took this photo of us. They were on their honeymoon. We were pretending we were on ours. :)
So much history right behind us!
Did you know that the baseline of the Parthenon is not actually straight across as it appears? It's an optical illusion. If it had been built straight it would look like it was sagging in the middle; however, the architects knew to build it higher in the center to make it look straight. Mind blown!
Nick thought he should wear a hat as well. :)
No big deal - just holding up the Parthenon with my finger.
We couldn't miss out on a jumping photo too!
The stones were so slippery! It was much more treacherous than it looks. I was holding onto Nick so tight! An older woman had gone down pretty hard right in front of us.
King Nicolas looking down at his people. :)
Beautiful Athens! Everyone described Athens as a dirty city. I was actually surprised by how clean it was. I was also surprised by how well-dressed people were. For the most part, men were well-dressed and fairly clean cut.
We hopped over to Mars Hill for another great view of Athens.
Lofos looming in the distance.
Just below the Acropolis is the neighborhood of Anafiotika. It's a beautiful little neighborhood with white houses, beautiful flowers, and cats! Unfortunately, the area smelled like cats too.
We made our way back to the main roads and walked up Adrianou. It's a pedestrian-only street with souvenir shops galore. I took a picture of this sun-dyed shirt with helpful Greek phrases. Greek is not an easy language! About 10 different people told us how to say "thank you" in Greek. It took us the better part of the week to get it. "Efharisto."
We stepped inside the massive cathedral for a moment. (not seen in the photo) I wasn't wearing appropriate attire, so we didn't stay long. There was a chant that sounded Muslim coming from inside, but it was a Catholic church. (?)
We walked quickly up another pedestrian-only street - Ermou. We kept spotting police everywhere. I asked a group of them standing around if they would take a photo with me. These were the only 2 brave soldiers. ;) I actually felt small next to them!
Farther up we walked through Syntagma Square and on to Parliament.
The Evzone guards stand here for an hour guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier. The changing of the guards is at the top of the hour. We had made it just in time to get some photos with them before the ceremony began.
It's hard to see, but the guard is drenched in sweat.
When the ceremony was about to begin, another guard moved us back 10 feet behind a barrier. In the distance, we could hear voices getting louder. Whomever was chanting and screaming was getting closer. I told Nick we should probably leave. None of the other tourists looked concerned, but it definitely sounded like there was a large protest coming our way. I know I tend to stand out like a sore thumb, so I'd rather not be near a group of people protesting, even if it meant missing the changing of the guard.
A policeman directed all of the tourists about 50 feet farther back to a different barrier right before the changing of the guard started. We were on the sidewalk next to the street by this point. Nick had the camera, so I told him to take a photo of a group of guards walking by. The loud protestors were definitely getting close now. It was hard to tell where they were coming from because their voices were bouncing off the walls of the tall buildings. I was very uncomfortable. Everything in my body was telling me to run. Nick and the rest of the tourists acted like they didn't hear a thing!
We finally spotted the group protesting. They came around the corner. The group was completely blocking traffic. They had banners raised, and flags flying. I couldn't read any of it because it was "all Greek to me." Ha! There were probably 400 men walking next to a car with a microphone. Locals were walking by as if nothing was happening. They acted like this was an every day occurrence. After about 20 minutes, it had passed.
Nick had been taking photos of the changing of the guard the whole time. He didn't even stop to look at the loud protest going on 10 feet behind him. Haha! I asked him why he didn't at least take a photo of them. He didn't want to encourage the behavior or feed into it. I couldn't have agreed more, but I would have liked a photo for the blog. :)
That was enough excitement for me!
We walked back down Ermou Street to grab a drink at a nearby cafe.
Some of the more popular drinks in Greece are iced coffee. We had an iced cappuccino and iced mocha. They were so good!
We had a reservation at Lithos restaurant at 7:30pm, so we walked about 20 minutes down from the Plaka neighborhood to the Psyrri neighborhood.
Lithos was voted the #5 restaurant on trip advisor out of 1908 restaurants. Their service was outstanding, and the food was amazing! Even Greece has better service than Italy! Italy needs to get it together!
We walked back toward the Acropolis after our yummy dinner. I think it's even prettier at night. It's too bad they don't allow visitors up there that late.
Back at our hotel, I remembered to get a few photos of the lobby.
The concierge made sure we were taken care of the next morning. Our taxi was to arrive at 5:15am to take us down to the port. They even arranged for us to have a breakfast to take with us. I would definitely stay at this hotel again!
Nick and I both really enjoyed Athens, but we were very excited to see Mykonos and Santorini...