A Visit To the City of Athena

I leave today for Istanbul but before that, I wanted to see the ancient Athens.

So yesterday night, I drew a plan for touring everything of importance this morning. I took the map and the guide that the airport hotel had given me and I created, in my opinion, the most optimized itinerary.

I will not describe all the monuments, but if you are curious and want to get an idea of what I plan to visit, here is the itinerary:

Hotel – Mitropolis – Tower of the winds (10)- Roman Agora (19) – Acropolis – Ancient Agora (11+9) – Thesseion – Pnyka hill – Filopapou hill – Lyssicrates monument (17) – Hadrian’s Gate (14) – Temple of Zeus (21) – Athens Stadium – Zappeion – Presidential residence (66) (was not planned initially) – Parliament building – Sindagma – Hotel

I woke up early, checked out of the hotel, and started walking toward the first stop at 8:30AM. I was not back at the hotel until 3PM. I was happy but quite tired and with a minor case of headache due to some dehydration and insulation.

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I really liked the tower of the winds which Ledi and I had seen by night. We were wondering what it was when we first saw it. I said that based on the the high-relief characters it might have been a representations of Icarus. Well, I was wrong. I guess it is what happened when you want to look smart in front of a girl but you do not know what you are talking about! It is an octagonal base building with a personification of the winds blowing from the direction the front is facing. It seems like it was used as a clock and calendar too!

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The Acropolis is just grand. It towers the whole city and it is not rare to turn around the corner of a street and just get a glimpse of one of its monuments. But once you are walking on it, it is a bit disappointing as most of the buildings are surrounded by scaffolding and you cannot get inside the Parthenon. Also, it was very crowded as is to be expected. The museum there is very nice with some great artifacts that were removed from the monuments in order to protect them.

The Roman and Ancient Agora did not impress me as much. Well except that I was walking where once Sophocles and Aristotle taught!

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The views of the Acropolis from the Pnyka and Filopapou hills are definitely worth the hike. I got lost a bit but eventually found my way to the top of these two hills.

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The temple of Zeus is also quite a sight and can definitely rival other large temples I have seen in my trip like the temple of Zeus in Jerash and the temple of Jupiter in Baalbek. You also have a good view of the Acropolis from there.

It was definitely rewarding to walk that much. The views of Athens from the top of the three hills are also great showing how large and extended Athens is. Also, in a city where everything is a potential antiquity, I think Athens, unlike Alexandria for example, has stricken a good balance between the need to protect its historical monuments and the need to turn itself to the future.

All in all, Athens might be the most rewarding Hellenist/Roman city I have visited ,right up there with Jerash :).

They Just Don’t Get It

Sometimes people don’t get it.

Let me explain what I mean. Yesterday, I was looking at how I would go from Athens to Istanbul. Taking a ferry back to Turkey was my first idea since it did not cost me too much the first time and I liked the idea of stopping at another island on the way.

Because I did not know which ferries to take, I thought I would stop by at a travel agency to ask about my options and get help booking the ferries. I guess that was a mistake!

I found a place located close to Athens’ main square. Unfortunately I was not received very well. The clerk was very tense from the moment I entered. When I asked her how I could get to Turkey by ferry, she said she could get me a ferry to one of the islands and then I would have to book the ticket from that island to Turkey by myself.

That is fine, however when I started asking about how to book the second ticket, the agent became plain rude and sharply responded that she was not tourist information and I should know how to get where I wanted!

Well, I understand if she did not have the information, but man why be rude about it. Furthermore, if I knew what ferry to take and simply wanted to book a ticket, I could just use the internet and not the services of a travel agent. I think in our new age of Internet, travel agents must offer more than just booking services to be competitive. Information and help is expected and good service is essential. During my trip I have dealt with many agents that have gotten the idea, but it looks like this lady has not.

Anyway, I told her she must be having a bad day and just left. This shop was not going to get my money! The not so funny part was today when I happened to be passing by the shop again. I heard the same lady having a fit and yelling at the other employees. Everybody just looked miserable. Then, a tourist walked in asking for help completing a transaction she had initiated on the internet. The lady refused to help this tourist in any way, even though there were no other clients and the 4 clerks were idle, since they were not going to make any money from it. If you ask for my opinion, helping the tourist would have been a sure way for them to make themselves a good name. I just wonder how these guys are staying in business.

At the end, I logged into the internet and booked a flight from Athens to Istanbul with Olympic Airways for later today. It is fast and I don’t have to deal with any travel agent :).

Getting a Feel for Athens

Athens, like a lot of cities with a great past, can exhibit two faces based on what you are looking for. The ancient Athens dedicated to the cult of goddess Athena and the modern Athens dedicated to bringing Greece into the 21st century.

Today, I tried to get a feel mainly for the modern part. A lot of people had told me they did not like Athens as a city so I was expecting a dirty and crowded place. But I did not get such an impression at all. I actually found the city quite nice, reminding me in a lot of ways of Paris (maybe that is why I liked it).

The paved streets West of Sindagma square are a perfect shopper’s heaven with scores of fashion and accessories boutiques.

The districts of Plaka, Monastiraki and Psiri, which are all located at the foot of the Acropolis, are densely packed with restaurants, nice and trendy cafes, night clubs, art galleries, souvenir shops and everything else needed for entertainment. It is where I ended up watching the semi-final between France and Portugal and where I got my daily souvlakis (gyros).

Later, I dedicated the rest of the day to visiting the National Archeological Museum.

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It is very impressive, as to be expected, with an extensive sculpture section that covers more than half the museum, exhibiting some great items like the Aphrodite and Pan sculpture. The bronze collection is also very nice featuring great items like the jokey of Artemision and an antique mechanism of an astronomical and calendar calculator dating from the 1st century AD.

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I was especially attracted by the section on the Mycenaean civilization which I don’t remember having studied at school. It presented the finds from a group of tombs called Grave Circle A at Mycenae. It is interesting to point out how rich in gold these findings were. After learning a bit more, I was fascinated to find out how greatly this civilization has influenced the whole Greek mythology that forms the base of the Hellenistic culture. Characters like Perseus and Agamemnon are said to be related or at least based on important people living in Mycenae.

Tomorrow, I plan to explore more of the ancient face of Athens by extensively visiting its main monuments.

A Wonderful Time

Ledi had a week off work (yes, some people have to work) so we had decided to meet in Greece and visit the island of Santorini. It is considered a wonder by itself to the point that it has come to symbolize Greece, or at least the Greek Islands. We actually met in Athens on Friday evening and flew to Santorini early on Saturday morning to stay 5 days there.

Volcano’s Villa, our hotel, was just great with very discreet staff and an awesome view. The hotel is located a bit out of Oia (second largest city of the island) making it looking secluded at first but it actually is great to not be cramped in the city like the other nice hotels of Oia.

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And it even ended up being awesome when on the last day, the whole city of Oia got closed to cars as the mayor had decided to redo the streets then! Walking in the city became a bad idea as you had to go over hot asphalt. We felt so sorry for the shop owners and the tourists that had paid so much for their hotel room. Frankly, what a stupid idea to do large scale road work in the beginning of July in the heart of the tourist season. One sure thing is that this mayor is trying everything he can to make sure he is NOT going to be reelected!

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Anyway, that is it with the rambling :).

Our room was one of this nice cave house with all amenities and a gorgeous view of the Caldera and the Volcano. The pool was very nice too with a view as magnificent as the one from the room. But sadly, we did not get to enjoy it as much as we should have since we were most of the time gone to explore the island and its great beaches.

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For that purpose, I had the fancy of renting a scooter and ride along the winding roads, shirtless, and the wind blowing through our hair 8-). OK, I don’t know about that last part because first I don’t have much hair to blow and second, it would have been really reckless. Anyway once on the island, we realized how dangerous it was at night with the locals driving like crazy and how strong the sun was during the day and Ledi wisely and easily persuaded me to rent a car in place.

But I did not fancy a dull Hyundai so we looked for something a bit different. We ended up renting a Smart cabrio and it was definitely a smart choice :-p. First, I always had wanted to try one of those and second that little car was the perfect size to go around and park anywhere in usually full parking lots. It had a very cool blue color with numbers as you can see on the picture and we fell in love for it as soon as we got it. We took that little beater all around the island covering almost all its roads. Even if its little engine had some trouble sometimes getting through steep slopes, it never let us down and gave everything it had and more to get us where we needed to go. A real little warrior! Yeah, I know, I got gaga for that car. Ledi was too and we ended up haggling to know who would be driving :).

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While there, we mostly drove around checking out the landscape and stopping to nice spots to take pictures, to supermarkets to stock up on goodies, to small sandwich places to get the best panino ever or to major beaches to lay back and enjoy watching the time pass doing nothing. Exactly the kind of activities we needed.

Our favorite beach was the Red beach where we went the first day. It owes its name to the red cliff at the foot of which it is located. It is small and secluded, well protected from the wind and has some great spots to dive from. There we met a group of six cool Greeks that invited us to join them as they were diving from rocks and taught us some words in their language including some bad words.

We also visited quite extensively the city of Oia and Fira (the main city) jam packed with shops, restaurants and tourists. As it is the case on the rest of the island, the new view you get at every street corner calls for a photo and one has to control oneself to not take pictures all the time. Not to be missed, the port of Ammoudi at the bottom of the cliff in Oia is very nice and triggered our picture frenzy one more time.

Of course, we had to at least look at the sunset once but since the sun was not decided to go down and it was well over 8PM, we turned that time in a silly photo session, once more.

We sure had a great time in Santorini where everything was just perfect. I already miss that little island! We loved it, I am sure you would too 8-).

The Amazing Race

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My mission was to get from Fethiye to Athens in less than 2 days without spending a lot of money. That meant no flying or using any kind of private transportation.

I had been planning this trip for more than a week and I was looking forward to it, since I was going to meet Ledi in Athens. I had contacted a travel agent to help me book the ferry tickets from Bodrum to Pirraeus via Kos since it is difficult to do it on the Internet. It went well. I had my tickets in hand:

  • Bodrum – Kos / June 29th / 5:30PM – 6:30PM
  • Kos – Pirraeus / June 29th / 8:40PM – 9:20AM (+1 day)

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Fethiye - June 28th – 4:30PM.

Just out of the boat and freshly checked into a nice hotel thinking I had plenty of time to get to Bodrum the day after so I could visit the town.

Everything was just perfect.

It is when I checked my emails that luck turned around. There it was, a notification from the travel agent that my boat from Bodrum to Kos had been cancelled and he had rescheduled me on the 9:30AM boat on the 29th. That certainly was not good news but I was so thankful I had gone through an agent who took care of rescheduling and notifying me. Kudos to “Anker Travel” for their great work.

Hum, there was no way I could get to Bodrum on time if I slept in Fethiye that night. So I rushed back to the hotel and asked the clerk if he could find out when was the next bus to Bodrum. It was at 7PM and he told me the bus company would come to pick me up down the street at 6:30PM. I was there but I never saw the bus and it was already 6:50PM when I hopped on one of the buses that had Otogar written as destination.

“The bus station is only 2km East so I should be there on time” I thought optimistically. I was quite wrong as it turned out I had taken the bus in the wrong direction (misunderstanding between me and the Turkish driver). Well, what could I do? I arrived at the bus station at 7:15PM hoping that the bus had not left yet. Turns out Turkish buses leave on time so no luck there and I started to feel bad when I was told there were no other buses to Bodrum before 5AM the day after (too late for me).

This is when a guy just showed up from behind another bus and told me there was a way to get to Bodrum if I took his bus and changed at some other place whose name I could not understand. But he seemed to know what he was talking about and I did not have much choice anyway so I got on that bus hoping for the best ;). Luckily everything went smoothly from there. When we arrived where I was supposed to change bus, the bus steward told me to get out and handed my bag to the other bus’ steward. I got on that bus and we were in Bodrum at 1:30AM. Not the fastest way to get to Bodrum but I was on track to catch my ferry the next morning.

After a very short night spent in the first cheap enough hotel I found, I made my way to the ferry dock to recover my tickets and check into my first ferry. The guy at the counter gave me my Bodrum-Kos ticket but he could not give me or tell me where to get my Kos-Pirraeus ticket. I was a bit annoyed about that but I thought I would leave it up to my good stars (that have been good to me so far) to take care of putting everything together at the end so I got my exit stamp, boarded and found a nice spot to read and enjoy the view.

As soon as the ferry departed, an employee came towards me and told me he needed my passport in order to take care of my Kos-Pirraeus ticket! Yes, he just found me on the boat and took care of everything returning 5 minutes later with the ticket. It all worked out for the best again :).

Once in Kos and through the emigration check (welcome back to the EU!), I had almost 10 hours to spare on the island so I thought I could check it out a bit and take it easy on one of the numerous beaches for the rest of the time.

I just needed to find a place to store my bag for the time. As I was thinking about that, a woman on a scooter with her little girl standing in front of her came toward me offering lodging. After I explained what I needed, she told me I could store my bag and even take a shower at the end of the day all for 5 euros. I sat on the back of her father’s scooter with my big bag strapped on and here we were going through the streets of Kos. I have to say it was quite cool :).

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The day went well. I mostly lingered on one of the long chairs at the beach enjoying the sun, the warm water, and the “view”.

I was on time but the ferry ran late. Nothing too bad and we were on our way soon after 9PM. I spent my time reading, walking around the decks, watching Turkish TV, and sleeping where I could.

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We arrived in Pirraeus at around 10:30AM with the seagulls accompanying the boat as we entered the port. It is quite fascinating to see them play in the boat wind.

With some help from the locals speaking good English, I was in the metro bound to the Airport and checking into the hotel in no time.

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Athens – June 30th – 12:30PM – Not the freshest but Mission Accomplished! 🙂