Ancient Athens!

Trip Start May 05, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2013

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Where I stayed
Hotel Aristoteles Athens
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Greece  , Attica,
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We were fairly stressed about our arrival in Athens and just how we were going to make it to our hotel.  Luckily the only bus (or any form of transport other than private cars) servicing the airport that day (ok, we will take this one) dropped us about two short blocks from our hotel.  Our smart phones made life all that much easier by locating us on the map and shortly we were checked into Hotel Aristoteles.  After a quick shower and map consultation we thought we would have a walk to the main square (Syntagma) to see how the protest was coming on.  On our way downstairs we handed our key in to the desk and were caught in conversation by the very friendly gentleman on reception.  A scholar at heart, this man pointed out all the attractions on a map, (told us very firmly to stay away from Syntagma Square - "Ahh Syntagma, dont not go there today. Do not go anywhere near there today! Just stay away.") and then proceeded to give us a linguistic lesson on Greek, and how the root word for most English, French, Spanish and Italian words come from Greek.  We did learn to say "thank you" though (Ef Haristo (not sure of proper spelling, this is how he wrote it phonetically for us), and lots of other interesting things like how how euthanasia comes from the Greek words meaning "good" and "death".  About an hour later we were able to make a polite escape and went for a walk to see the city.

The atmosphere of Athens was very charged that day.  As we were walking, separate protest groups were gathering to march to Omonia Square where from 5 pm, a big march was planned on Syntagma square (outside the parliament offices).  This day the parliament was voting on the latest round of austerity cuts to gain more bailout loans - policies that are deeply unpopular with the Greek population, so much so that many are calling their government illegitimate as they are not listening to the population.  The protest at this stage was very peaceful, but having said that there was a huge police presence and riot buses filled with police in riot gear were making the rounds of the streets.  There were also lots of people on the street, and while the area our hotel was in wasn't a terrible neighbourhood, we only walked a couple of blocks until we stumbled upon a junkie den.  We quickly decided that the best idea for us was to return to the restaurant across the road, get something nice and easy to eat and then watch whatever was going to happen unfold through the BBC.  After two chicken souvlakis (they put fries in the souvlaki - how weird is that? Good though!) and a beer we called it a night (about 5.30/6).  We were asleep by about 8 pm and so missed all the drama that happened in Syntagma square.

Catching up on the news the next morning (we woke about 5- yuck) we saw that the protest of last night did not stay peaceful.  As we watched the BBC show images of people throwing molotov cocktails and petrol bombs we wondered what the day would bring. 
On the plus side, our hotel provided free breakfast which included PROPER BREAD! You have no idea how exciting this was for us after six months of the sweet stuff in China - absolute heaven!
We headed off to Monastiraki square to meet with our tour guide from Athens Free Walking Tours, which despite the rain was going ahead.  Our guide was called Walter and he was a classics major and knew a lot about Athens from living there for quite a long time.  He took us for a 3 hour walk and we covered Hadrian's Library, the Roman Agora/forum, Ancient Agora, Aeropagus, the Acropolis, Dionysus' theatre, Hadrian's Arch, the temple of Zeus, Zappos house and the Parliament building.  More information on these in the pics.  You would never have been able to tell that a riot had broken out last night in front of the Parliament! 

At the end of our "free" walking tour we decided to give Walter a tip (we were the only people on the tour, and while they don't pressure you to give a tip, it is nice to do so!), as he had been a fantastic tour guide.  We would really recommend this tour - by far the best we took on our trip. 

We spent the rest of the day eating, sleeping, walking and more eating before heading back to the hotel for another early night.

The next day we decided to spend taking a closer look at the attractions that we didn't go into on the walking tour.  Our Acropolis ticket gave us entry into these so off we went.  The weather was really warm, beautifully sunny and we had lots of fun wandering around Hadrian's library, the Roman forum and Ancient Agora.  I particularly liked the Ancient Agora - standing in the birthplace of democracy and pretending to be Socrates like the political science geek I am!  

We then headed up and over the hill and saw Dionysis' theatre before finding a nearby place for lunch.  We saw the Acropolis museum in the afternoon and then walked home through Plaka - the tourist part of Athens (it's very beautiful and clean with very little graffiti compared to the rest of the city).  We had dinner in Monastiraki square where we got kebabs and frozen yoghurt (mine with quince topping - delicious!) and watched a group of drummers beat out rhythms (they were really good) and a crazy drugged guy dance with an umbrella. We have a video which we will try to put up.

Our final full day in Athens was spent looking at the Greek archaeological museum (where we got completely lost.  We were looking for one particular exhibition and spent over an hour searching for it!).  We wanted to see the Antikythera mechanism which was found on the Antikythera shipwreck and was supposed to be the worlds first computer.  Pretty amazing, but was all in little parts - not quite what we were expecting.

We thought that seeing Pireus port would be a good thing to do, so we got a train out there to get lunch.  Unfortunately it isn't a very pretty place (not quite sure what I was expecting, it is a modern functioning port after all!) and was frankly quite depressing and run down.  We had a quick look then got back on the train to go back to town.  We had lunch in Plaka and then spent the afternoon looking at shops, souvenirs and beginning our fridge magnet collection. 

We flew out the next morning after taking the very simple option of the train out to the airport.  Next stop Rome!
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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