This report will cover our 3 nights in Athens. We're a retired couple, in our 60s. This is our first trip to Greece. Completely DIY. Booked and confirmed superior room Athens Gate via hotel's website on 1/14/11. Rate 195 euros per night with breakfast and taxes included. Chose this hotel primarily because of its location. When we arrived we had been upgraded to an executive suite on the 7th floor. There are 8 suites on our floor as opposed to 14 rooms on the other floors.
6/16/11: We're off from Kalambaka in our rental car by 7:30 am. The beautiful scenery continues as on our other journeys. We easily find the Leonidas Monument. We park the car by the side of the road and cross the street to the monument. There is a huge sign that provides info Battle of Thermopylae, 480 BC. It's a very interesting read. The monument is truly moving. Leonidas was the King of Sparta and with his 300 men and an additional small force of Thesians and Thebans held off the Persian army of Xerxes which numbered in the tens, possibly hundreds of thousands. The Spartans held off the Persians for several days. A Malian traitor informed the Persians of a path where the Spartans were outflanked. When Leonidas learned of this he sent most of his forces away to save them. The few that stayed were all killed. This battle is seen as a story of courage against overwhelming odds. There is also a monument to the Thespians that fought with him to their deaths. We also walk to Kolonos Hill-the supposed last stand of the Spartans. Really glad we made the stop.
Back on the road we stop at a gas station just before our drop off point. Fill up-75 euros. On our 8 day self drive trip we have spent a total of 180 euros on gas. I did write down the start and end mileage but can't find the numbers for the end mileage. Aha-found the paperwork from the rental agency. Drove a total of 1607 km. Cost of rental car (cheapest model-manual, no GPS) was just under 150 euros for the 8 days. Tolls-tried to keep a record-no more than 30 euros-can't decipher all my receipts!! We drove from the car rental place outside the airport to Nafplio, to Epidauros, Mycenae, Corinth, Olympia, Delphi, Kalambaka, back to Athens/car rental place. No problems-no extra charges. Highly recommend renting a car. We got to see the "real" Greece. Met some interesting folks along the way especially during the times we had to stop to ask directions/try to ask directions!! Only got "lost" a few times and were quick to realize our mistake. Learned some new ways of driving. If you make a full stop at a stop sign the Greek drivers will beep their horns at you to get moving. We learned to drive in the shoulder lane of traffic as I would not allow my husband to exceed the speed limits. Greek drivers are impatient and drive fast!! Shuttle takes us back to the airport. We get a taxi to get to Athens Gate Hotel. Cost 40 euros.
Easy check in. Upgraded. Room #705. The room itself is not as spacious as we expected but the balcony is HUGE-almost as big as the bedroom area. Tremendous views of Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, Panathenaic Stadium, Lycabettus Hill. We are in the end corner unit and looking to the back we can also see Filopappou Hill. There is no bathtub-shower only. We decide to do some exploring. We walk and are on Filellinon St. There's the Hard Rock. Our daughter collects the shot glasses so we stop at the store linked to the restaurant and make our purchase. Next is Panepistimiou where I spot the jewelry store Ilias laLounis. There is an impressive collection of reproductions of ancient and Byzantine jewelry. I have in mind a particular pair of earrings-from the Minoan & Mycenaen collection- but I'm disappointed that it only comes in clip not for pierced ears. I'm told it can be adjusted for posts. I make the purchase but I have some reservations. We walk back towards the Hard Rock and it starts to really rain hard. An enterprising shopkeeper has pulled a rack of umbrellas to the front entrance of her store. I buy a small one for 5 euros and now I'm drier. Decide to have dinner at the Hard Rock. My husband orders the veggie burger and a salad. I have the cheeseburger (smaller size) which comes with fries. French press coffees and we feel great. Dinner is under 30 euros with tip. We walk and somehow are now in Parliament Square where there are numerous protestors and banners all over the place. We see 2 large police buses and officers in full riot gear just in case things get out of hand. We decide to not stay but do observe the situation for around 15 minutes or so. This was totally unexpected. We thought we'd experience this in Cairo but didn't and now here we are in Athens right in the middle of unhappy Greeks!! These protestors are really pissed off at the Greek gov't. We pass by the Melina Mercuri statue and before too long are back at our hotel.
6/17/11: Breakfast buffet one floor above ours with a stunning view of the Acropolis/Parthenon. Get laundry together for hotel pick up. This is our first full day in Athens. We head back to the laLounis store. I'm uneasy about adjusting the earrings so I inform the saleswoman I've changed my mind and want to purchase a pair already made for pierced ears. There's some difficulty but I explain that I called the main office, spoke to ...., and was told could pick something else. I select a nice pair of Byzantine style. I also get new paperwork for the VAT refund. I must be honest and say I was not impressed by the service I received at this store. I had to really be firm in order to have the first return credited with a subsequent purchase of a different pair. I think they were put out that the second pair was cheaper than the first. But hey-nothing is inexpensive in this store and they should be happy I'm making a purchase. Returns are never handled this way in the US. I never even had possession of the original earrings and they hadn't done any adjusting to them.
We check the time and realize we can watch the changing of the Evzone guards in front of the Parliament bldg. As we walk we're joined by the 3 guards and some men in military uniforms. I have a spot right up front but the military men are not helping my picture taking. There's a crowd but not large. It's really neat to watch them go through their routine. This is where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is and I'm told by the guy next to me who says he's Greek that this Tomb is very important. Richard takes my picture next to one of the guards.
Next stop-Temple of Zeus & Hadrian's Arch. The Arch is free and imposing. I can't make out the inscriptions/writings on each side. Supposedly the side facing the Acropolis reads-This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus. The opposite side reads-This is the city of Hadrian, not Theseus. Made of pentelic marble.
Walk over to Syntagma Metro Station and check out the exhibits on the first level. During construction of the metro tunnels archeological artifacts were discovered.
Temple of Zeus aka Olympieion. We purchase combo tickets 12 euos pp. Admission to Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, Theater of Dionysos, Karameikos, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, and Hadrian's Library. Ticket consists of stubs that you present to sites. Can only visit Acropolis once but can use remaining 6 stubs any way you want. Hand over one stub. Site is very manageable. Ground is fairly even which is good for me as my knee is sore. The Temple itself is the main attraction but there are other remains to see. Themistaklean wall, classical houses, and Roman baths. We can see our hotel from the site.
We cross the street and purchase our ferry tickets to Mykonos for 6/19 at the Blue Star Ferries Office. Air seats from port of Piraeus to Mykonos.
A short walk away is the New Acropolis Museum. Houses the antiquities of the Acropolis. Admission 5 euros pp. Have to check our backpack. No pictures allowed. There is a glass floor area where you can see the ongoing excavations. Gals-if you're wearing a skirt, might not be good idea to walk on the glass!! We see so much. Start on the top floor-Parthenon finds. Spaces for the Elgin marbles. The original caryatids, the calf bearer, peplos kore, kore with almond shaped eyes, pediment Athena vs. giant, krittos boy, pensive Athena, and so much more. In the gift shop I buy some postcards an a short guide to the museum.
Leaving we find we're hungry so opt to have a late lunch in one of the nearby cafes on the pedestrian walkway. I have fried meatballs with potatoes and my husband orders yogurt with fruit and honey. It's now 4:30 pm. What the heck! We're here so we decide to do the Acropolis.
It's sunny and hot. Good thing we have our hats and water. We hand over our specially marked stub for the Acropolis and a stub for the Theater of Dionysos. The ascent is not that bad. Crowds have gone which is nice. I take tons of pictures and video. I'm finally on the "rock"!! We're turned around so don't follow my planned order of sights. We enter on the southern slope. Theater of Dionysos and Herodus Atticus is first. Propylaea and Temple of Athena Nike. OMG!!! The Parthenon. I take a zillion pictures. I'm awed by the spectacle of this magnificent structure!! The Erechtheion. The caryatids. The Greek flag point. The views!!!!!! It's just about closing time so we decide to reluctantly leave and head back to our hotel. Think we've accomplished quite a lot for this day.
A relaxing shower and some time on the balcony. Dinner Manh Manh. Easy walking distance. We have no reservations but are in luck. Place is full. Reservations probably would be a good idea. I order the ravioli filled with feta cheese in a tomato based sauce with bits of chopped vegs. Husband orders the special-chicken, spaghetti, basil, mushrooms, and zucchini. Complimentary are 2 small dessert wines. Unfortunately I didn't mark down our cost but remember it wasn't overly expensive but not cheap either. Service is excellent as is the food. We have a leisurely stroll back to our hotel.
6/18/11: Breakfast buffet. Now I can really appreciate the view of the Acropolis/Parthenon! This will be our last full day before we head to the islands. So much more to see! First mistake-deciding to take public transportation to the NAM. It takes us a while to finally find a kiosk where we buy the tickets for the electric bus. 1.2 euros per ticket. Bad move-we get round trip or 4 tickets. Get on bus #5 to Omonia stop. Our hotel receptionist has warned us to be very careful as this is a bad area of the city. I have my husband holding our backpack in front of him. So far no problems. Get off and right there is the NAM. It's 9:10 but it doesn't open until 9:30 am so we sit on the steps with lots of other people who have arrived thinking 9:00 am is opening time. Admission is 7 euros pp. Camera and video ok-no flash. Had to check the backpack. Special exhibit-Myth and Coinage. Cycladic collection 3200-2200 BC-harp player. Frescoes from Akrotiri. Finds from Mycenae-famous death mask. Hellenistic statues-Aphrodite/Pan/Eros, wounded Gaul, youth of Antikythira, 100 BC Diadoumenos Polykleitos, Greek vases, marble & bronze statues-460 BC Poseidon or Zeus, galloping horse. Need at least 2 hours here. We have tons more sightseeing so we head across the street to where we see a bus stop sign and wait, and wait, and wait. Our #5 bus never comes. We're finally told that's not the bus we need. The needed bus #13 arrives and a swarm of people race to get on. This was our big mistake. People jammed up against each other. I can't even move past the turnstile to validate our tickets! When we get off at our stop my husband realizes his wallet has been taken. I ask him-why did he have his wallet in his pocket when all our stuff was in the backpack?? Why did he have his wallet?? He didn't need his driver's license, credit card, or money as I had everything for this outing in the backpack!! He's upset and I'm just peeved with him. He is not in the mood to do anything but I'm determined to continue on.
We see Hadrian's Library, Tower of the Winds, Roman Agora. Walk through the Monastiraki flea market-very interesting. Try to find the Ancient Agora but by the time we find it, it's closed!! Most sites close by 3:00 pm. What a bummer. Now we're hot and tired so we stop for drinks and try to navigate our way back to the hotel. Pass monument of Lysikrates. Some other buildings but have no clue what they are.
I'm window shopping. Byzantino jewelry store and in the window i see the earrings I had wanted to get at laLounis!! I have to know-are they clips or posts. They're posts!!! Not quite as large in size as the ones from laLounis but 1/3 of the price. I LOVE THEM. Husband cringes as I make my purchase. I explain he's getting me an early Christmas present. He states that with these 2 earring purchases it's not just Christmas but my birthday too!! The store manager says she will mail me a statement with info on the earrings, value, etc. (When we finally arrive home 7/7/11, the statement is in our mail waiting for us) My regular jeweler back home appraises the earrings at more than what I paid so I'm happy that I accidentally found Byzantino. Back at our hotel, I contact the credit card company and cancel the card. Luckily I still have mine. Replacing the driver's license will be a pain (not a pain as when we get home in the mail is the renewal forms for his license!) and of course the money (fortunately not much) is long gone. I hope he's learned a lesson. We make arrangements for wake up call 5:45 am and taxi at 6:30 am to take us to Piraeus port. We pack.
Dinner-Tzitzikas & Mermingas. Easy walking distance from our hotel. Large place with outdoor and indoor seating. We opt for inside. Utensils in a drawer built as part of the table. How cool! Interesting decor. I order the masticha chicken as I had read on TA recommendations for it. It's very good but way too much rich sauce. Manage to eat most of the chicken in the pastry type shell but leave most of the sauce on the plate. Husband orders a pork fillet in wine sauce with capers. Served with mashed potatoes and spinach. He says his dinner is very delicious. FIX beer and coke. Cost with tip is just under 43 euros.
6/19/11: OMG! It's so early. Check out is a breeze. Settle up our bill which is laundry, some local calls, and 3 nights stay. We're given coffee and a breakfast box which we really don't want as we have enough things to cart. I do eat the slice of plain pound cake that's in the box. Coffeee was all we needed. Taxi on time. Cost to port-short, easy trip, under 30 minutes-is 20 euros, tip included. Ferry is huge. We leave 3 pieces of luggage in the hold area marked Mykonos. and find our seats, lounge A2 #87 & #88. We are on our way to the first island we will visit-Mykonos!!!
Part 5 will cover Mykonos which we absolutely loved.
Link to pictures Athens