Day 1 – 4 – Athens: It’s All Greek To Me!
After a whirlwind in Rome, we landed in Athens! We grabbed metro tickets and headed to our Air B&B. Quick note about the metro in Athens. To get from the airport to the city centre costs more – $13 CAD/person. Once you’re in the city, the metro is very reasonably priced. We opted for a 5-day unlimited pass for $13 CAD/person. Also, it’s based on an honour system (we assume there are random checks but we never saw any). You buy your ticket, validate it, and you’re off! Once stamped, you’re able to enter/exit freely with no fuss.
Following the directions given to us by our host, we arrived at our metro stop. Our accommodations were only 300 metres away – but in which direction!? Unfortunately, the area where we were staying had no signs in English, only Greek, so the address that we were provided with was pretty useless. To make matters worse, the map didn’t coincide well with reality, which meant we had no idea where our accommodations were. Luckily, our host saw two bumbling fools rambling around the metro station and came and got us. Exhausted, we quickly fell asleep.
Revisiting Greek Mythology 101
The next day, we headed to the famous Acropolis. Now, we’re going to tell you what we think we should’ve done, not what we did. If we could go back in time the first thing we would do is go on the Athens Free Walking Tour. We had friends who did it and said it was fabulous. This will provide you with a better idea of the lay out of the city and help you make crucial decisions once you arrive at the Acropolis. BUT…before you even go to the Acropolis, you should check out the Acropolis Museum. We did this on our return to Athens, but we should have done it prior to visiting the Acropolis. It really gives you a better understanding of what you’re looking at.
Now, once you’ve done the walking tour and the museum you will arrive at the Acropolis. You can purchase a single day pass to the Acropolis for $28 CAD/person or a multi-site pass for $42 CAD/person. The multi-site pass is valid for five consecutive days and gives you access to the following seven ancient sites in Athens:
- Ancient Agora (marketplace)
- Hadrian’s Library
- Roman Agora
- Kerameikos (cemetery)
- Olympieion (Temple of Olympian Zeus)
- Archaeological Site Of Lykeion (gymnasium)
We decided to go for it and purchase the all-inclusive pass. It’s up to you whether you want to head inside the ruins, which you may get a glimpse of on your walking tour, to further explore.
So there we were, heading up the shiny marble staircases to the Acropolis. Clair had been there about ten years before but really didn’t remember anything because she was nursing a severe hangover. This time, she was in better shape. It really is an incredible site! There are many areas to explore including the slopes of the hill and the amazing Parthenon. In a nutshell, the Parthenon (the place with all the columns) was built as a dedication to the goddess Athena and to be used as a symbol of success and power of Athens after the defeat of the invading Persian Empire. Throughout history the Parthenon has undergone many transformations and purposes. Wear proper footwear if you are coming here, the marble gets pretty slippery.
Enjoying Every Minute Of The Greek Cuisine
The next couple of days were spent exploring the other seven ancient sites. We arrived in Athens in the so-called shoulder season (right after the off-season and before the high-season), and had these sites all to ourselves. The one we found the most interesting was the Olympieion (Temple of Olympian Zeus).
If ancient sites aren’t your thing, do not fear. The food and wine in Greece is so freaking good! Of course we tried Kebabs, Souvlaki, and Gyros, what are you nuts?! And Greeks are so generous. It’s common for them to bring you an extra glass of wine or some grappa (a really hard clear liquor) to enjoy with your dinner. Don’t expect service with a smile, as the food industry is dominated by male curmudgeons, but the absolute best kind of curmudgeons. One of the best restaurants recommended to us by a Greek we had met in Peru (Hi Angelos!) was Thanasis in M
onastiraki Square. Don’t be worried about sharing, the portions are enormous.
Also, if you’re looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth, try out Serbetospito. Angelos recommended the chocolate soup. It really was something you only need once in your life.
Day 5-6 – Hydra: Turquoise Water, White Houses, Picturesque Greece!
No trip to Greece is complete without visiting one of the islands, the most popular being Mykonos, Santorini, and Corfu. Following once again the guidance of our friend, he recommended going to Hydra instead as it’s much closer to mainland, not as well-known to tourists, and just as good. Fun fact about Hydra, Leonard Cohen had a house here. In fact, he still does and apparently his kids visit every summer!
The ferries leave from the port of Piraeus, which can be reached by metro. Prices for the ferries are quite expensive but they are really comfortable and fast. As we were waiting for our boat to arrive, we had a really interesting experience. There was a father with a four-year old boy and infant girl. Admiring the antics of the little guy, we were surprised to hear how well he spoke English and how adorable he was. The father approached us and tried to wrangle his kid into not disturbing us. We quickly reassured him that it was not a problem and we struck up a conversation. We asked him where he was going today and he told us that he was simply taking the kids out while his wife was at the asylum office to find out whether they could stay in Athens. Originally from Kabul, Afghanistan they had arrived last year and had been staying at a refugee camp ever since. He then noticed the Canadian flags stitched on our backpacks, and said to us “You are so lucky” and he hoped to one day be able to live in Canada. Although we wished we could’ve done more for them, we gave the boy one of our Canadian pins, which we had carried on our backpacks in the event that we could share them with others along our trip. It really highlighted for us that the only difference between us and this young man is the fact that we were just lucky to be born in Canada.
Should Be Called “Cat Island”
The ferry to Hydra was quick and painless, only lasting 2 hours. Before we knew it we were docking and heading up the cobblestone steps to our hotel, Pension Erofili ($60 CAD/night). We had purposely selected a place close to the port, as there are no cars allowed in the town. Anything you need to carry either goes on your back or on a mule. Choose wisely.
We arrived on the island a week prior to the start of the high season for tourism in the area. This can either be viewed as good or bad. This meant that the island would be much quieter and prices were reduced but a number of shops were not yet open or in preparation for it. Our days were filled with the bluest of skies and water, oh…and a ton of cats. Kik’s mission was to pet every cat on the island, until he met his match.
Day 7-8 – Nafplio: A Can’t Miss
The first gloomy day on Hydra was the day we were leaving. It almost seemed as though we were following the sunny skies because as soon as we made it to our next destination, the skies were blue!
From Hydra, you can see the large peninsula of Greece known as the Peloponnese mainland. Unfortunately, it was quite difficult to find information on how to get across. We did learn to avoid the boat taxis as they quoted Kik 120 EUROS for a 30 minute ride! We found a ferry for a reasonable price with a trusted company which would take us to the port in Ermioni. From here, we would grab a bus to Kranidi and change onto another bus heading to Nafplio. Altogether the trip was only 3 hours and very inexpensive. Nafplio is well worth the visit. We were well greeted at our hotel, Pension Dafni ($63 CAD/night), with a small bottle of wine during check in. Also, go for the breakfast for an additional $8 CAD/person. They make home-made greek yogurt, it was delicious!
One of the million lessons we have learned on this trip is how small this world can be. On the ferry over from Athens to Hydra we had met a couple, Allan and Tobey, who approached Kik because of his Jays hat. We quickly found out they lived in Toronto but Allan was originally from Winnipeg. The conversation ended once we arrived in Hydra but it turned out we were going to be following each others paths up to Nafplio. Would you believe that Allan worked for the NDP in the 80’s!? He knew all the good folks that Clair had the chance to get to know over the years. It was really nice getting to know them over supper, wine, and gelato. They also joined us on the climb up 999 stairs to explore the ruins of the Palamidi Castle, which overlooks the town and has amazing views of the ocean and surrounding mountains.
Day 9-10 – Argos:
Ever wonder who the Toronto Argonauts were named after? Well…we can say we explored the town where the name originated from, Argos. For more info,check out the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Although, this town doesn’t scream with excitement it has a rich history and close to some very important ancient ruins such as, the Larissa Castle, Archaeological site of Mycenae where also the Tomb of Agamemnon lies, and the Theatre of Argos.
It’s apparent this town doesn’t get much tourist traffic. In fact, we think many of the people who work in Nafplio probably live in Argos. It was only a 20 minute bus ride away. You could see that this town was still recovering from the Greek economic crisis. We went into a couple of shops and people were so thankful when you purchased something. We stayed at Morpheaus Hotel ($53 CAD/night), which included a balcony overlooking the main square. It was an exceptional view and perfect for people watching. The only downside was that the rooms were not smoke-free. Strangely, this was the first time we have had to deal with this.
We decided to get a close up of the Larissa Castle, which sits quite noticeably on a rocky hill within the towns boundaries. You can easily grab a cab to the top of the hill but where’s your sense of adventure? It took about 30 minutes of uphill walking and trailblazing through an olive orchard but we made it! What’s really cool, and very negligent, is the fact that there’s no entry fee, security guard, or proper signage for dangerous areas. You literally can explore the ruins with no restrictions, although keep in mind some areas can be treacherous. There was a gigantic hole covered up with plywood. The real challenge is dealing with Clair’s patience and tearing away Kik from his imaginary game of Knights & Kings. (Clair: LAME)
Day 11-14 – Athens: Not Done Just Yet!
And we’re back! We took a bus from Argos (KTEL Argolidas bus station) for $18 CAD/person. The drive lasted around two and half hours. We once again rented an Air B&B but this time in a different part of town, apparently close to the Anarchist square. It was also close to the university, so this neighborhood had a great vibe to the area. As mentioned before, we came to the Acropolis Museum on our return to the city, but we wished we had gone beforehand. The entry fee is a very reasonable $7 CAD/person. The museum is built to resemble the interior of the Parthenon, with the preserved artifacts being displayed similar to how it would’ve looked in ancient times.
We spent the last couple of days drinking coffee, good wine, exercising (a little), savoring the last few bites from our Souvlaki , and Clair getting ready to explore the job market!
Does anyone know anything about Romania other than Transylvania and Dracula? We sure don’t, but we’re on our way!