Really, I do. I love it.
The month of bitter European Winter may have left me easy to please, but I am absolutely in love with Athens! The sun (how I missed it), the smell in the air that shifts between faint fresh flowers, and deliciously rich Greek herbs, the absolutely friendly people. All of it.
We arrived at the incredibly located Hera Hotel via taxi close to midnight, at which time the flat-rate airport-Athens taxi jumps from 38€ to 54€. Our driver was more than willing to stop off at an ATM for us, since he did not accept credit cards (we told him before we’d left the airport). The city is chocked full of ATMs, so it was only a block from our hotel anyway. The taxi ride was such a nice introduction to the city, as he pointed out major sites along the way, and even gave us directions to the Acropolis from our hotel in the morning. A+ start to Athens, and well worth the arduous journey it took to get here!
Our hotel reception greeted us with a similarly warm welcome, and we got situated in our nicely equipped room for the night, after running for 22 hours on 4 hours sleep. I am kind of a sleep princess, and require 8 hours or I begin to unravel.
The next morning, after a needed sleep-in we got a late start to the Acropolis Museum. Well, so we thought. We realized we were, in fact, at the Acropolis and not its museum after walking the grounds for about two minutes. All is well, though, as we’ve decided the museum, only a couple blocks from our hotel, will be a great Friday night activity, when they’re open until 10pm!
Though the Parthenon has been undergoing renovation and covered in scaffolding (since 1974), the Acropolis and surrounding ampitheaters and forgeries are quite a sight. The views from the top, though, are the a real gem in my opinion! At 10€ a person, the Acropolis ticket is one of the more expensive we’ve paid, but it’s an absolute must for a visit to Athens! There is a multi-pass ticket that will get you into most of the city’s ancient sites, but it is equal to the cost of each site included, so you might as well buy them individually unless you really do plan to enter each one.
After the acropolis, we climbed up and down the hills for even more breathtaking views, and attempted to find the entrance to the Ancient Agora, but were so dazed by hunger, that we gave up and went back towards the hotel and Plaka for some food!
On our way out for the day, we were met with many restaurants’ barkers, all claiming they serve the freshest, the most authentic, the absolute best damn Greek food you’ll ever taste. One offered us free drinks. We went back there.
Arcadia was friendly, delicious, and more than willing to answer our questions, even those irrelevant to the menu. Portions were large, and with the Meze appetizer platter, a Greek salad, and Pastitiso (Greek lasagne) we were stuffed, with a box of leftovers to take to the hotel for the morning!
Day 1 in Greece has me wishing we had two weeks to spend here!
Day two we started our Free Walking Tour from the National Museum at 10am, and followed Michael around the city, absorbing as much of his info as possible! With a Masters in Classics, that was a lot! He not only showed us the historically relevant sites, but also where to eat, where to shop and what is worth returning to (as well as pointing out what’s not.) He was undoubtedly the most laid back of our tour guides thus far, a demeanor that juxtaposed his abundance of knowledge, constantly offering detailed stories of how whatever we were looking at was relevant, its origins, and often, its demise. (Athens is a city of many ruins.)
One awesome tip we got from Michael was to ditch the hop-on-hop-off, opting for the tram instead, as a means to reach the beach! For 1.40/90min ticket you can ride the 5 tram from Syntagma Square (one metro stop from the Acropolis) to the beaches, as far south as Voula. We made two diversions from Michael’s suggestion. Firstly, we went to Glyfada instead of Filovos Marina (mostly because it meant more time along the coastline tram-route). Second, we went for the 24 hr passes at 4.50 a pop, in order to use the tram as a hop-on-hop-off. Our stop in Glyfada ended at Zahoulis. You must go to Zahoulis. It was the best food we had in our entire trip. The environment was great, the food was amazing and the prices were damn good! I left so full, but fully willing to eat another round. It was that good. Just remembering it. SO good.
Anyway, if you didn’t die and go to heaven after lunch at Zahoulis like I did, a walk along the coast, a bus ride, or a tram-walk combo might be a nice way to get to the supposedly very beautiful beach town of Vouliagmeni. I wouldn’t know, though. A waddle to the tram and a quick stop in Voula for a few pictures was all I could muster, as I was due for a post-face-stuffing nap.
If you don’t give a shit about beaches, go to Zahoulis anyway. You will forever associate the beach with their food, and then you’ll love beaches…or maybe you’ll drool when you see one… a true Pavlovian test.
One not so stellar tip from Michael was the “local spot” in Monastriki, Thanasis. It was underwhelming at best, though cheap. Perhaps we should have just gone for the gyros (BIG DEAL TANGET: Not one place we ate at served lamb gyros! “What?” you say, “Craziness!” I know. ). Only pork or chicken were the gyro options anywhere we ate! Also, less dramatic for me, not one spanokopita could be found on a menu we encountered.
After a lunch letdown we did some shopping in Monastiraki. We caught some deals on small gifts for friends, but a lot of touristy crap and redundancies made for a moderately draining experience. The vendors selling along the cobblestone road that wraps around the base of the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora (it’s called Apostolo Pavlou, but you either A: won’t use street names at all, or B: won’t understand what the Greek pronunciation is anyway) all seemed to have better prices, and I significantly prefer the environment. There are so many vendors on Saturdays! Though you’ll still find many of the same things repeated, there are certainly unique handmade souvenirs to be found.
For our last morning and afternoon in Athens we strolled over to the Ancient Agora site, a massive ruin with a still fairly intact temple and restored Stoa left to sit in awe of. Though the Stoa of Attalos is the home of the Ancient Agora museum, it doesn’t offer as much as we’d anticipated as far as information on the ruins and their individual relevance. Still, a couple hours in the sun wandering the Agora is a terrific way to spend an afternoon catching glimpses into the past.
There’s a spot on the corner of the two most active streets around the Agora on the Thissio side, where you’ll be annoyed by tourist poachers out front, but you should go anyway. It’s ridiculously cheap (we left more than satisfied for 16euro). Though, your tasty cheap meal does come at the cost of crap service. Really though, for the price, and with a great people-watching location on the patio, it is a great option close to the Acropolis.
Another awesomely affordable, but significantly more service-focused restaurant option is Liondi on the south-east side of the Acropolis (in front of the Acropolis Museum and metro station). The owner recognized us from stopping to talk to our guide while we were on the walking tour. Recognized us after we mentioned? No. After we sat down? No. As we walked by on the street! He then insisted (I mean insisted) that we come in for a glass of his wine on the house! I, already a bit tipsy from my 500ml wine ordering mistake of an hour prior, outright stated laughingly “we can’t eat anymore, we’re not buying any food.” He said, “good, don’t, come and drink some wine” as he led us each by the arm to a table. Free wine from persistent Greek is apparently impossible to turn down. We drank the wine and thanked him, with a promise to return the next day. We came back for dinner, and with only a moderate appetite built up, decided on two specials. At 7euros each, my plate of fried calamari and her zucchini patties, both served with generous greek salads, were exactly what we needed. It was just a bit more than I needed, actually, but the calamari was so delicious! With drinks, a giant piece of baklava and tip, we got out of there at 30euro for dinner for two!
The best advice I could find online is to round to the next bill (e.g. 10, 20, 25) or so for most checks, leaving up to 10% for good service.
Though service may not be what Americans generally expect, if you are prepared to actually ask for what you want, wave when you need attention, and do a signing hand-gesture to get the bill, you will be just fine. Literally every single person we interacted with was friendly, helpful and/or interesting, while many were all three! Greeks undoubtedly deserve the award of excellence for personability!