I’ve had a burning desire to go to Greece for some time now. The opportunity to go to Athens arose through work. Then, my friend A. from grad school invited me to his family’s villa in Santorini. When you get those kind of offers, you work hard to weave them together, but above all else, you just don’t say no!
My flight to Athens left at an eye watering 7:20am, so I stayed at a chain hotel (not my favorite thing) by the airport to catch my flight so I didn’t lose my hair from the stress of getting from central London at dawn. A quick layover in Berlin, and lots of gazing out the window as I flew over all of Europe, and I was in Athens!
Having only 48 hours in Athens before catching the ferry to Santorini, and a work-packed agenda, I had a watertight schedule of things to see. Not a moment could be wasted, from the moment I landed, to get to all the sights I could in Athens. I even broke my rule and took a taxi rather than the metro from the airport to my hotel. I stayed at Fresh Hotel, which was ideally located in the center of town so I could easily reach everywhere I wanted to go by foot.
Once I checked in, I literally threw my bags down, changed out of my UK-weather proof sweater and started tromping the streets of Athens.
I use Three, a phone service that offers a cool program, Feel at Home, where users enjoy the same phone package in select destinations abroad as they do in England. Sadly, Greece is not a country covered in the Feel at Home package, and I couldn’t justify buying a daily EuroPass simply for a maps function. So, I looked up directions to Mount Lycabettus, the first place I wanted to go in Athens, at the hotel using the wifi and decided to chance it, walking with the aid of the directions of my screenshot-ed map. The issue? My map and all the destinations were in English, and, of course, on the street, everything was in Greek! Talk about confusing. I made it in the end, with a nice little wander through the streets of downtown Athens.
I was surprised by how “normal” and busy everything seemed there. The city was heaving with people at every turn- this didn’t seem like an economically depressed place, there was no queueing around cash machines or homeless people lining the streets. I’m not sure how it is outside the big cities, but Athens is at least safe and stable, or so it seemed.
I finally stumbled upon Mount Lycabettus, which wasn’t too hard considering it is a huge hill in the middle of the city. Pretty easy to find.
I didn’t really realize how steep it was, and how untamed it would be. It is literally smack dab in the middle of the city, so I thought there would be hiking paths and whatnot. It turns out most people hire a taxi to drive them up, or locals seem to like to jog on the dirt paths. For a tourist in Birkenstocks, the rocky path was a little harrowing, but I made it up and the view was amazing.
If you get to the top of the driving bit, you’ll find another long trail, this one a nicer paved one, to get to the very top of the mountain, where there’s a church (something you’ll see a lot of in Greece) and an amazing vista.
There were a lot of people crammed on to this little mountaintop, so I took a look, catching my breath, and quickly moved on. I had a long to do list for the evening, after all.
I walked back down and wandered around for a while longer before heading to dinner at Karamanlidika, a cute little deli that was just three minutes from my hotel, along the Central Market. It was highly rated on Trip Advisor, and I can see why.
I arrived at about 9pm and there was a line out the door, which would only get longer by the time I left around 10:30pm. Its a humble little place, apparently an “authentic” taverna from the days of yore. All the staff spoke English, though, which made ordering very quick and easy, and since I ate alone, I was able to cut the long line, sit at the bar, and take in the views of the restaurant.
The place is really well known for their fresh meat and cheeses, although I would say you could probably get anything on the menu- its not terribly long- and you’d like it. It was all very fresh, in a way that we don’t get in Britain and especially in America, and so so so flavorful.
They brought me a really nice platter of deli meat, which I watched one man cut from a side of I’m-not-sure-what right at the counter. I felt rude, but obviously didn’t eat it, being a veg and all. (I did, however, cheat in Santorini with the world’s best chicken souvlaki, earning me the name chicken cheater, but more about that later!)
Instead, I filled up on bread and opted for spicy cold calamari as a starter, which was just perfect. Fresh, chilled and with a nice combination of chilis and peppers…
…and for my main, Greek salad of course! The odd thing is, this Greek salad came with roquefort instead of feta, and lots of capers. I really, really liked it, even if it was a slightly odd recreation for my first Greek salad in Greece!
And for desert, I was gifted (again, like the starter, on the house!) a lovely scoop of thick and tangy Greek yogurt topped with shredded, sweetened fruit.
By the time I walked out, full and very happy, it was dark and I had work calls. I wanted to wake up very early, anyway, to do more exploring before meeting everyone at the Acropolis at 10am.
The next morning, I woke up at 7am to walk to Mount of the Muses, another hill in the city. This one is behind the Acropolis and closer to the ocean than Lycabettus, and was definitely worth the early morning hike from my hotel.
I was expecting Athens to be quiet and shuttered so early in the morning, as most Southern European cities are at so early an hour. I was really surprised by how many people were out and about so early, though. Still, it was much calmer than I would have thought, and it gave me a great opportunity to walk the quieter streets and, closer to the Acropolis, see some of the ancient sights.
The walk from my hotel led me right through really quiet roads that were sure to be packed with tourists in just a few hours; I skirted the Acropolis pretty much the whole way, so I got up close to a lot of the monuments and ruins downhill from it.
Probably because its much closer to tourist havens, the Mount of the Muses is much more accessible and tourist friendly. I’d learned my lesson, and wore sneakers, but you could easily do the walk in sandals. You live and learn!
On the way to the top, there are lots of other paths that look like the lead to really cool places- like Homer’s Jail (!?). I’d recommend a good few hours to wander around. I did take the detour to see that. I mean, talk about crazy old. It was also used to hide ancient artefacts from the Acropolis during the Second World War.
But I was on a mission. I only had until 10am and wanted to go to the Central Market on my way back!
I walked through the winding paths, which at the foot of the hill are very, very well maintained…
…and get a bit more rustic towards the top.
As you climb higher and higher, the view gets better and better- like here, a view of the Acropolis with Lycabettus behind it!
As you climb higher, you come along a path that was designed by an artist in the 20th century to celebrate the convergence of ancient and modern Greek culture. It was pretty cool to follow the symbols along the path.
And before you know as you follow the path, you spill out on top.
The view of Athens and the sea is stunning, as is the actual monument to the Muses.
The best part? I was all alone up there for a good half hour. I couldn’t bring myself to leave, even though I was in a hurry. It was so beautiful, and I felt like I, alone, was on top of the world.
At 9am, realizing how typically late I was, I descended hurriedly so I could walk through the Central Market before meeting everyone at the Acropolis at 10am. Basically retracing my steps, I came back to the center of town, which had transformed into a massive open air market heaving with people clearly doing their daily shopping. This is no Borough Market. It is clearly a utilitarian shopping area where people get everything from cows heads to olives to soap to trinkets. I tried to walk through the fish and meat markets, but couldn’t stand the smell, so stuck to produce and the bazaars full of old antiques and oddities. I’d definitely recommend walking through as much of the market as your nose can handle, it was really cool to see everything out on sale, locals and tourists alike bartering for their meals and souvenirs.
Rushing back to my hotel, throwing water over my sweaty face, I ran back toward the Acropolis to meet A., D., and E. for our tourist extravaganza at the Acropolis. As PhD students, we all got in free. If you’re an EU student, you go free to almost every museum in Greece, which is awesome.
What was even more awesome was the free tour guide we had in A., who is a veritable wealth of information on ancient Greece (he’s a historian, after all!) and super proud of his homeland.
The Acropolis was, as you’d imagine, even at 10:30am, rammed with people. But that didn’t change my mind about the experience. Its something I’ve always wanted to see with my own two eyes.
I could go on and on with information on each building and the history behind each, but this post is getting rather long as it is, so I’ll just keep it to photos.
I will say, it was so cool to see something in real life that I’ve read and studied about forever. Crowded or not, its a memory that will stay with me for life and probably one of my favorite travel experiences ever.
After the Acropolis, we had a quick lunch and raced across town to the Archeological Museum, which has artefacts found from all over Greece, from pre-antiquity to more modern times (i.e., around the birth of Christ). We stayed there hours, wandering from room to room, reading about prehistoric civilizations and wondering how so much could have lasted for so long. They just don’t make things to last anymore!
I saw a lot of familiar sights from my old school art history textbooks, and found lots more new things to fascinate me.
By 6pm, I was knackered, as was the group. We retired to the museum gardens for a coffee and natter. Then it was time for me to return to the hotel for work calls, and the group went back to A.’s. We had an early morning ferry to Santorini the next morning.
I’m going to have to return to Athens to give it the real attention and treatment it deserves. If you’re a history buff, or love looking at architecture and art, I’d definitely recommend a good four to five days in the city to take in everything that it offers. 48 hours just whetted my appetite.