Day 8 – Athens
We were brought back to our standard vacation practice with a thud – the half day city trip began at 7.30! Breakfast was a rush (in any case, just about the level of our previous stay) and we were delayed by 5 minutes! After a round of collecting people from various hotels and then changing buses, the tour began in right earnest. The first visit was to the Panathenaic Stadium, which apparently has its legacy linked to that of the full marathon. The story goes that a soldier ran non-stop from Marathon to Athens to convey the Greek victory over the Persians. He collapsed and died soon as he delivered the ‘we have won’ message. This distance is what makes up a full marathon now – just over 42 km (!) – and it was included when the modern Olympics began in 1896.
We saw many more interesting things around Athens – accompanied by a bilingual commentary (English and French) by our guide – the temple to Zeus with its Hadrian’s arch, (and the magnificent columns) a statue of Lord Byron who died in Greece, Heinrich Schliemann’s house which is now a numismatic museum, the Parliament which was once a palace, and the change of guard that happens there. Apparently the best looking soldiers are chosen for this job and it’s a matter of privilege to them to chosen as a guard here. We also saw the constitution square, the oldest university, an ancient library, an academy for philosophers, the first parliament building (now a museum) Some interesting anecdotes as well – apparently they found Roman baths while they were digging for the Athens Metro project! Most of these were seen from outside, and we finally landed at the new National Archaeological Museum near the Acropolis. Apparently, acropolis is a common noun of sorts used to denote any citadel/fortified area built on a higher ground.
The museum tour took over an hour across all three levels, and though the guide did her job – making sure we heard as much of history and mythology (familiar names like Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Apollo…) as possible during the time – it proved a bit tedious. But to be noted that the Greeks have done a great job into preserve and restore their history and culture. I loved the glass floors at several places which allowed us to see the excavations in situ. Apparently a lot of the missing ‘pieces’ in the relics are being showcased in Britain, and despite several pleas, they are refusing to return it! The tickets bought by the guide could be used across four monuments in the next four days. Alas, we had just a day more! The museum has a cafe, well explained exhibits and even archaeologists on call to explain! Photography is not allowed on 2 out of 3 levels, so we didn’t really shoot a lot.
We then walked up the winding path to the Acropolis. The buildings are so majestic, and the top of the acropolis gives a spectacular 360 degree view of Athens. We spent quite a while there, and then walked down to Plaka – the old market area.
There are guys all over the place saying shukriya (!) and trying to sell stuff to you! Our plan was to lunch at Plaka, but thanks to hunger pangs and a slew of restaurants on a lane we reached, we decided to ignore the restaurants in our list, and just eat! Kotili appealed the most and we set about the task eagerly. We ordered what they called a ‘small platter’, penne, and a carafe of the house wine. Everything turned out to be excellent. The small platter seemed huge and does have a lot of meat, but it’s also a good packaging job over a mound of fries! Their service though is the differentiator – the most jovial and entertaining I have experienced! They also gave us complimentary Mastika and a little plate of dessert! Shot and sweet!
Somewhere during the meal, I turned around and saw that we were very near the Monastiraki station! That meant we were on a lane parallel to the flea market! Greece is not having the best of economic times, and some of this was evident in the downtown area – entire shopping complexes closed, for instance. But this area had quite a bit of buzz happening. We did a little bit of shopping, though judging by the prices it should have been called a fleece market! Now that we had figured out the area and the possibilities, we decided to get back to the hotel to rest a bit. Caught this outside the window and were careful with the curtains!
We did have quite a few dinner options planned, but the lunch hadn’t been digested yet! So we decided to head back to Monastiraki for a yogurt dinner. We found Yogolicious opposite Kotili, and they had the DIY concept of yogurt, with six yogurt variations and tons of topping options! D chose plain with fruit toppings, while I chose chocolate with all the choco-toppings I could find! The pricing is by weight and we ended up paying 10 euros. We then walked around a bit, listened to a concert happening at the square and then caught the train back to the hotel. Since we wanted to see the Acropolis view at night, we dropped in at the Titania’s own rooftop hotel, and over Mythos beer and Coke Zero, watched the glorious structure all lit up!
Day 9 – Athens – Dubai – Bangalore
was easily the mood since it was time to go back! We were scheduled to be picked up from the hotel only after 1, so we lazed around, ate the standard breakfast (they didn’t have hot chocolate the second day!) and decided to lunch nearby. We walked around a bit and decided on the Meet Me cafe near the metro station. D chose a club sandwich and a Freddoccino, and I had a Choco Venessia and a Caesar salad. all good, except I liked D’s drink more. We went back to the hotel and packed. A lot of sighs were heard!
The pick up van arrived right on time and we had a few Japanese for company as we made our way to the airport – about 45 minutes away. The tour operator’s representative was there to wave goodbye! I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Rush in the first flight to Dubai, and absolutely loved both! We were at a different terminal in Dubai airport and whiled away our time reading and a coffee at the Nestle outlet. I slept all the way in the second flight. The 4.15 PM (Athens) journey ended at 9.05 AM (Bangalore) and also ended the Odyssey.
The trip (all inclusive) cost us about Rs. 3.75 lakhs – 1.23L for the international flights, 28k for the 2 flights within Greece, 18k for the Visa which was quite a breeze, (though the paperwork kills!) 1.35 for the custom package from Fantasy Tours, (includes hotels, some of which we specifically asked for, boat tickets, airport/ferry transfers and a half day Athens city tour. Everything was handled very smoothly) and the remaining for meals, (a Gyros can be had for as cheap as 2 euros, a meal at a good restaurant is between 20-40 euros) buses, entry tickets, and of course, shopping! You can save costs on many things – cheaper accommodation, lesser wine , more Gyros, boats vs flights within Greece are some I can think of. Also, most people like to do at least 2-3 countries in Europe at a time, and it does have its benefits, you might want to look at that option. But we have our own quirks and absolutely had a great time, enjoyed every bit. Not at all bad for a first visit to Europe. When you visit, say hellos to Hellas for us!
until next time, waiting for the next wanderlust!
P.S. If you don’t plan to use data at all, store Google offline maps on your mobile before you set out