Greece 2016 – Post #1 – Getting there and Athens

I love to travel. From the time I was a little girl I remember being on a plane. I think I spilled milk on my dress and cried but I still loved to travel.

One of my personal goals is to travel on my own or with a friend every year. I love my partner and I love my kids but there is something very liberating and relaxing about only being responsible for yourself.

I am very lucky that I have a number of friends who are also travel junkies. This year it was Anne who got the pleasure of accompanying me on a trip. We decided we wanted to go sailing through the Cyclades – the Islands of Greece.

The Plan

One of my favorite things to do is plan the trip. Anne lives half way across Canada so this one was all coordinated over the phone and through email. Despite that it came together very easy and fast!

The first step was to book the sailing trip. We wanted it to be easy and hassle free so we signed up for a tour with Intrepid Travel. Anne had used Intrepid before and that trip had gone well so we chose them for this trip. There are lots of other tour operators but you have to make sure the tour is for you and fits your travel style.

It was very easy to book with Intrepid and our conversations with their staff to confirm the details of the boat etc. were very pleasant and friendly. Now that being said they can’t tell you much because they hire a local operator for their boat and skipper – all they know is the number of people who will be on the boat, that the boat is small so quarters would likely be fairly tight and that they choose their partners carefully. Those were all things we could live with, lucky for us Anne and I are both pretty flexible and adaptable.

Once we had the sailing booked the itinerary came together fairly easy:

September 28 – Travel to London
September 29 – Travel London to Athens
September 30 – Day in Athens
October 1 – Fly to the island of Mykonos and meet our crew
October 2-8 – Sail
October 8-9 Santorini
October 10 – Travel home

Why I love to travel – the KING and QUEEN

I love airports, there are so many people there. I wonder what their story is. Where are they going? Why are they going where they are going? What is the relationship between people travelling together?

Anne and I travelled separately to London and met at London’s Heathrow Airport. Heathrow Airport is one of the largest and busiest airports in the world. The international departure area at Heathrow is a big circle and everyone sits in the middle until shortly before their flight. When your gate is announced you go there just before the flight and from what I’ve seen it is fairly efficient. I sat there for about 2 hours waiting for Anne to arrive, just watching people as I drank a cappuccino and ate a chocolate croissant – yummo!

The biggest advice I can give you is to travel light, especially through the airport, keep your head up (there are always signs to follow), be confident and give yourself lots of time.

Keep your eyes open has the benefits of making you look confident but you also never know what you will see. I saw a young attractive couple and his shirt said “the king”… I thought little of it until the girl he was with took off her jacket and her shirt said “his queen”. I sat their quietly, smirking, discreetly but frantically looking around – wondering if anyone else saw what I could only summarize as one of the most ridiculous things I had ever seen. And yet one of the most amusing. I saw them again going through security a little while later, I did see a few other smirks in their direction, I don’t think I was the only one who noticed.

Arrive in Athens

Despite my amusement I found Anne and we made our way to our gate. The flight from Canada to Europe usually occurs overnight which is great because you arrive nice and early in the morning and have a full day in your destination but it makes for a sleepy morning.

Our early morning took us on a flight to Athens. The flight is substantially longer than you might think it would be looking at a map. I love to fly. I am happy to sit on the plane and read or watch a movie and eat snacks. That being said after a night of no sleep and a long day of travel I was ready to arrive.

We arrived in Athens late afternoon and headed by cab to our hotel. There are times when taking a cab is just the right thing to do. I usually find coming to and from an airport if you can swing it to take a cab is much faster, safer and often even less expensive than the other options. Especially when you arrive in a foreign country and you are exhausted and have no idea where you are going. BUT make sure you find an official cab, you can ask at your airline’s help desk, to confirm which cab you should take.

I didn’t know what to expect of Athens. I had never had Greece on the top of my list of places to go. When Anne suggested it I was game purely because I haven’t been there before but didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the city and didn’t even do a lot of research before we went. I should disclose I’m not a huge lover of big cities. I find them generally busy and abrasive and stepping into a place where everyone is just trying to get around and live their lives is often unpleasant for the hapless traveller bobbing along in the middle of it.

I tend to notice the silliest things. When Anne and I were wandering around the one picture I took was of this magazine rack. All of the magazine had a “gift with purchase” but not a tiny one like you would get in North America. A full size bottle of cream or shampoo or perfume! See this is why locals can’t stand tourists 🙂

Athens surprised me. There is a LOT of graffiti. As we drove along in the cab from the airport into athens I was struck by how large the city was and that there was graffiti covering the vast majority of it. I wish I had pictures but unfortunately I was lucky to be awake let alone functional at this point.

The hotel

We had chosen the Melia Hotel because it had a pool, beautiful view of the Acropolis and it is within walking distance to the acropolis so we could go sight-seeing the next day. My idea of what is walking distance is pretty long so you should always consider for yourself how far you actually want to be walking or travelling by foot. Also in a big foreign city it is helpful to research where is the safest place to stay that will have the amenities you require. The hotel is clean and the staff was very friendly.

As two friends travelling together we had worked hard to find a hotel that has two beds. In Greece it was very hard to find. We arrived to find one bed and Anne and I had a mini exhaustion induced breakdown until we realized it was two single beds pushed together. No problem we just pushed them apart and it was evident that not many people had done that before because there had definitely not been a vacuum run over that part of the floor in quite some time.

The hotel has a nice rooftop restaurant from which you could see the acropolis so we had originally thought we would just eat there when we arrived and that would make things very easy after a long day of travel. Unfortunately, we had not made a reservation and the rooftop restaurant was full. Since we had done no other research, it was about 8pm and we were starving, we asked for advice at the front desk. I would always suggest asking a local where they would eat. You have to be specific, try to make friends with them and ask them where THEY would eat and not where the hotel might steer you. We had a wonderful meal at I Kriti (my next post is all about the restaurant it was that good, I’ll link it once it comes out).

The Acropolis

The next day we decided to just get up when we woke up. Unfortunately for Anne I slept until 11am! I guess that overnight flight did me in. Very nice of her though because it made a big difference in my ability to switch to Greek time.

We got dressed and took off for a little bakery around the corner for breakfast. I bought a filo dough pastry filled with a spinach and feta filling that was to die for. These pastries are everywhere in Greece and they are amazing, I sampled quite a few over my 12 days there. As you might have noticed I enjoy the local food (and thereby usually toss aside my diet sensibilities) when travelling. I find you will miss too many excellent experiences if you don’t.

Map in hand we set off in the direction of the Acropolis, you can see it from where you are so how hard could it be to find. As it turns out we had a bit of trouble getting to the acropolis entrance. The map we had was a little basic and there are a lot of small winding streets as you near the Acropolis. Eventually we dug out the GPS and it sent us the wrong way up the hill.

Joseph from Salt Lake City Utah

As we headed up the hill we ran into a guy who had just come from up the street also trying to find the entrance he asked us for directions and confirmed for us it was not towards the top. Just for the record it is towards the bottom of the hill. So we headed down the hill and learned that this very friendly guy was Joseph from Salt Lake City Utah. He and his wife and family were on a cruise and had stopped in the port for the day. Unfortunately, Joseph’s wife was terribly ill with morning sickness so he was on his own. It was lucky for us because we had a nice chat and a free photographer for a portion of our tour around the Parthenon.

The acropolis is a pretty amazing place. Thinking about how it was built without modern technology, without big excavators and cranes. What a marvel of engineering as well that has lasted such an incredibly long time. They are working on a huge renovation of it and have been for about 100 years. Some of the older repairs and renovations have had to be replaced because they actually caused more damage than good in the long run but the goal is to preserve as much of it as they can and restore the structure over the next 20 years.

The site is also very busy. October is the shoulder season and not close to the busiest time of year for their tourism. That being said it was very busy and slow to move around. The site is large and it was very hot, definitely bring water with you and sunscreen.

We also went to the Acropolis museum which is at the base of the Acropolis and is air conditioned. It has a lot of original pieces that have been removed from the structure of the Parthenon to preserve them from further damage, including most of the Frieze.

Any that was about it. This is definitely not a definitive text on the marvels of the Acropolis but it was amazing to see and I learned a lot at the site and the museum. At this point though we were really tired. We had seen what we had come to see and we were ready for a rest. It is really to over pack your travel schedule and miss out on the rest portion of a vacation.

Afternoon by the pool

The roof of our hotel had a pool that overlooked the acropolis. So we spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool reading and enjoying an amazing piece of history. If you have a chance to take some time now and then to relax it will make the trip all the more worthwhile.

We had decided to come up and eat at that restaurant that night and had made a reservation the night before. While we were at the pool we took a look at the menu. We noticed that the prices were more than double what we had seen the night before and the items on the menu didn’t really whip us into a frenzy. So.

We went back for dinner at Il Kritiki again. Again we had an amazing meal and I will write all about it separately. Here is a little sneak peak.

It was a quick stop in Athens and I’m sure there was a lot more we could have done but I was happy to have a taken a small amount of time to see the Parthenon. That being said I couldn’t wait to get to Mykonos and see what this sailing adventure was all about! 11 strangers on a boat for 8 days what could possibly go wrong… Stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “Greece 2016 – Post #1 – Getting there and Athens”

  1. Loving it – can’t wait for the next instalment. And by the way – I actually put pen to paper ( well in this technological age I used my notes app on my phone ) the very next day after reading about your bucket list & started my own. Finally, after having a mental one for aeons, thanks Veronica!

    1. I have a restaurant review from Athens but the next Greece post will be about us all meeting at the little restaurant in Mykonos and getting on the boat! I can’t wait for that one! So glad you made a bucket list – keep working on it too – I think I’ve got another 10 things to add since last week!

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