Athens

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Harry's apartment in ExhariaApril 7, 2006 - Friday - The Alitalia flight from Milan to Athens was about 20 minutes late taking off. Paul picked me up at Athens airport as promised.  It was wonderful to see Paul with a sign "Mr. Carr" - I've always wanted to have special treatment at an airport - a first for JoeTourist®. (Greek Taxi Tours in Athens Greece) The other surprise at Athens airport - since Greece and Italy are both in the European Union, there are no customs or immigration.  Paul dropped me off at Harry's place, and  Harry met me at the door and showed me the apartment. It's very basic, but clean, and has a small kitchen, fair-sized dining room and bathroom, and 3 bedrooms.  I have the place to myself for the week, so that's nice! Harry's Greece Travel Guide

Harry recommended a local restaurant run by Albanians. It took me awhile to find it, despite it only being a block away from the apartment.  It isn't fancy, but the food is good, and it's not too expensive. While I'm eating dinner, I see lots of locals stop in to pickup takeout for dinner - a Oranges from the Exharia marketgood sign. I had: salad, pork & spinach, and a Coke (€10.50).

April 8, 2006 - Saturday - After having some coffee with bread and marmalade as a late breakfast, I join Harry for a shopping trip to a local open air market: fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as household sundries. Harry stocks up on everything, and I buy some oranges. The oranges are tree ripened, and still have some leaves attached to them. They are super sweet and juicy - lovely for eating.


Greens at the Exharia market

Fish  at the Exharia market

Olives at the Exharia market

After the shopping trip I walk to the National Archaeological Museum, which is only 15 minutes' walk away. As with the museums in Italy, it is endless. Hundreds of stelae, statues, and other artifacts from ancient times are beautifully displayed. Admission is €6, and they close at 3pm today.

Exharia area of AthensI skipped lunch, but picked up some date and sesame cake at a bakery on the way back to the apartment. I make some coffee and have a piece of cake for a snack before I lay down for an hour. I feel better after the rest, but I think I'm a bit lonely after being part of a group for the last two weeks.

Harry pointed out Strefi Hill on our shopping trip yesterday, which is a small hill just a short distance away from the apartment. I hike up to the top and am rewarded with good views of the Acropolis and the whole city. I take a few photos, then look for restaurants on the way down, and find a couple which are open. Ayah Restaurant, 43 Methunis: green salad (lettuce, tomatoes, olives, capers, cheese on top), with a penne & cheese entreé - a bargain at €8.90. It was very good food, and was much quieter than the Albanian place last night. I'll be back. Lots of clients smoke in restaurants here, which is hard to get used to after our non-smoking laws in Canada. Libya was the same - smokers everywhere, but Italy has no smoking in many restaurants.

Ayah restaurant
Ayah restaurant

Ayah restaurant

The Acropolis from Strefi Hill

Lykavitos Hill from Strefi Hill

April 9, 2006 - Sunday - Today is a full day tour with Paul. I decided to do the Circle Tour starting with Corinth, since getting to these sites without a car is difficult. Paul picked me up at 8am and we headed out of Athens. After returning from the tour, I have a nap and then go to the Ayah restaurant again this evening.  I have: simmered chicken and rice with Rocket salad - excellent! Greek restaurants will put oil and vinegar on most salads unless you catch them first. As well, olive oil is poured on almost all main courses.

April 10, 2006 - Monday - Acropolis - a full day!

April 11, 2006 - Tuesday - I slept in this morning, but by 10am I took the metro from Omonia to Akropoli Station again, but this time I was heading the other way to Hadrian's Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  I initially walked in the wrong direction and ended up in the Koukaki district at Syngrou-Fix metro station, but soon found my way back.

Hadrian's Arch is located outside the fence around the Temple of Olympian Zeus, right on very busy Syngrou Ave. It is very impressive in size, but has limited decoration. Hadrian's Arch was built by Hadrian to mark the division between the modern Roman city and the ancient Greek one. Admission to the Temple of Olympian Zeus is part of the €12 combination ticket I purchased for the Acropolis. It is a huge temple, but there are only 15 marble columns left standing out of the original 104. The rest of this site is mostly rubble, however the remains of the Roman Bath is worth a look.


Hadrian's Arch

Temple of Olympian Zeus

The Zapion

I then crossed the street to see the Zapion and the National Garden. The Zapion and surrounding fountain, gardens Parliamentary guardsand restaurant is impressive, however the National Garden is mundane. I tried to visit the highly recommended Benaki Museum, however it is closed on Tuesdays. I obviously didn't read my guide book carefully!

The Parliament is across the street from Syntagma Square, and is an easy 10 minute walk from the Benaki Museum. The guards wear ceremonial dress, including big puffies on their shoes! The real guards to the Parliamentary precinct (which is closed to the public) are armed police.

Since the Benaki Museum is closed, I take the metro from Syntagma to Omonia Stations, and revisit the National Archaeological Museum

I have used the Athens Metro to get to some of the local sites. It is inexpensive, safe, and easy to use, so I would recommend visitors to the city make use of this form of transportation wherever you can. You must purchase a ticket, then validate it as you walk to the train platforms. If you get caught dodging the fare, you risk an on-the-spot fine of forty times the fare, so remember to buy and validate those tickets.


Athens Metro directional sign

Athens Metro ticket machine

Athens Metro ticket machine

After returning home, I catch up on my journal, then lay down for an hour before going out to dinner around 7:45pm. Ayah again for dinner: Roca salad and stuffed pork with roast potatoes. I had planned to have Gemista tonight, but they didn't have it. The pork was very tasty though. It's 8:30pm and the restaurant is empty. Greeks certainly eat late!

April 12, 2006 - Wednesday - I set my alarm for 7am and was out the door shortly after 8am. I am at the Acropolis entrance and want to see the Acropolis Museum. The only problem is the ticket I have can only be used once for the Acropolis itself! Read the guidebook more carefully next time, Joe. I see some of the other nearby sites: the Tower of the Winds, Roman Agora, the Roman Forum, and the Library of Hadrian. I have some lunch near the Thissio metro station, then walk through the Monastiraki area.


Fruit stand, Athens Flea Market, Monastiraki

Syndagma Square & stairs to Metro station
Syndagma Square & metro station

 

I get on the metro Blue Line at Monastiraki and get off at Syndagma, the closest station to Lykavitos Hill, my next target. The funicular train takes people to the top of the hill for €4.50 (return). There are also stairs to the top of the hill for those so inclined (pun intended). There are wonderful unobstructed views of the whole of Athens from the top. There is also a rather expensive restaurant at the top, as well as a small chapel dedicated to St. George.


Funicular railway, Lykaviotos Hill

Funicular railway, Lykaviotos Hill

View of Athens, the Acropolis & Saronic Gulf from Lykaviotos Hill

View of Athens, Parliament, National Garden, Temple of the Olympian Zeus from Lykaviotos Hill

St. George's Chapel atop Lykaviotos Hill

Silver panel showing St. George on a horse, St. George's Chapel atop Lykaviotos Hill

I take the train back down the hill, then walk back to the Benaki Museum. I notice police paddy wagons parked in the side streets, and there is a protest happening across the street at the side of the Parliament. I quickly duck inside. The woman who sells me the admission said they were all crying a half hour ago, since the riot police had used tear gas.

The Benaki MuseumThe Benaki Museum (€6). This museum's artifacts are mainly the result of private collections being bequested by wealthy Greeks. The quality of the artifacts is noticeably better, having less restoration, and they also display a very diverse collection.

Ancient finds are on the main floor, and modern (to about 1900) Greek artifacts, textiles, and art are on the upper floors. I didn't find liturgical vestments, gospels, historical letters and notes and other paper and parchment in any other museums. This is fascinating material. There is also a huge collection of jewelry, Greek costumes and folk artifacts (for those who are interested).

I found inexpensive Internet access (€1.50/hr) at the Palladium Club, Solomou 56 (between Kanningos and 28 Oktovriou), one block south of the Polytekhnio. From where I'm staying in Exharia, it is only 4 blocks down Solomou.

Xapas Taverna, Methonis 58 for dinner this evening. I have pork simmered in a nice sauce with rice, and a Greek salad sans cucumbers. Cost was €15. The tomatoes the restaurants use here in Athens are so lovely and sweet - no doubt fully vine-ripened, unlike the horrible tomatoes we have available in Canada. Most Greek restaurants I encountered did not have English menus, so I was given a tour of the kitchen, and the dishes were described to me in broken English.  I then ordered by pointing and communicating in English as best we could (the staff and I).  This worked out well!


Xapas Taverna

Xapas Taverna

Garlic toast, Greek salad & Lamb or chicken friccase, Xapas Taverna

April 13, 2006 - Thursday - Cape Sounio & the Temple of Poseidon - Paul picks me up at 8am for our pre-arranged tour to Cape Sounio to see the Temple of Poseidon, and then drops me off at the Irini metro station after showing me the outside of the New Olympic Stadium.


The New Olympic Stadium

The New Olympic Stadium

Paul, the honest Greek taxi driver, in front of the New Olympic Stadium

I lay down for an hour before going out to dinner at 8pm. Ayah again for my last dinner in Athens: Rocket salad and rabbit in lemon sauce with roast potatoes and rice. The rabbit is delicious, but has small bones. Since I'm now considered a "regular", I'm served a dessert gratis: a small square pudding with citrus peal, currents and dusted with cinnamon - delicious.

Except for the odd beggar, nobody is alone in Athens. Folks are socializing in cafés, on the street, or having energetic conversations on their cellphones while they walk in the city or take the metro. Speaking of which, virtually everyone has a cellphone here.  I passed one guy today sitting in the same seat in a café outside my apartment three times - at about 1pm, again at 4pm, and finally at 8pm!

April 14, 2006 - Friday - My alarm goes off at 3am and I am picked up by Jimmy (Paul's alternate) at 4am. It is a bit confusing picking out Jimmy, since there are so many cabs going by. Exarhia is still going strong at this late hour! Jimmy and I have a nice chat on the way to the airport.  It is wonderful to have door to door service and not have to navigate the long and complicated routing from Athens to the airport.
 

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