An April 2003 trip
to Athens by Re Carroll
Quote: Orthodox Easter is the biggest holiday in Greece and I got to be part of it while in Athens. The city had a softer, more relaxed feel, and thanks to the mega hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I knew the correct Easter greetings. Who says movies aren’t educational?
Like tiny villages tucked within the booming metropolis, each of the many churches conducts their own
My hotel was in an excellent location at the edge of Plaka and within a few blocks of three churches. The sounds of church bells and chanting monks was a constant reminder of the season. Hronia Pola and Kristos Anasti were the traditional greetings and after mistakenly wishing
someone Hronia Polio (Happy polio), I got it right and entered into the swing of things.
Even during the holidays, travel throughout Athens on the expanded Metro was a breeze and I got to areas that I wouldn’t have otherwise visited. As well as efficient, the metro offers visitors museum like displays of ancient artifacts found during construction.
The new airport is about 45 minutes out of town, depending on rush hour traffic. Airport buses run 2-3 times per hour, 24 hours a day from a stop just outside the arrivals terminal. They drop passengers in front of the National Gardens near Syntagma Square.
The main floor entrance has a small library for guest use and a fridge with reasonably priced drinks. Up a short flight of steps is the reception desk which is staffed 24 hours per day, a nice security feature. Reception has a number of Greek travel guides (Lonely Planet, Let’s Go, etc.)that they lend to guests during their stay.
On the first floor is a large communal kitchen with fridge, stove, kettle, coffee maker, dishes, etc. Tempi also operates a tour desk where sightseeing excursions can be booked with pick up at the hotel.
I stayed here on two separate occasions during my holiday and the hotel stored my luggage in between visits. Everyone at the Tempi was incredibly friendly, from owners Yiannis and Katerina to all their staff who always had a friendly greeting. When I returned between visits they asked about my trip. Considering the hotel was full, I was impressed with their caring attitude and the fact they’d remembered where I had gone.
The Tempi isn’t perfect by any means. The building is old and the rooms reflect this – cracks in the walls and ceiling and a sort of dingy air because of its age. Each time I stayed here I had a different room and both were very small with a single bed, table, one chair and a sink taking up most of the space. Luckily, a small window let in lots of sunlight and fresh air which made the room seem bigger and brighter.
I got a vigorous workout every day because my room, like all the single ones, was on the 5th floor and the hotel had no elevator. My first room was the best. Although the furnishings were uninspiring, the view made it all worthwhile. In the distance, framed in the window almost as if it was a painting was the Parthenon in all its glory.
The hotel doesn’t have air conditioning but provides small oscillating fans for anyone who wants one. The rooms are cleaned daily with beds made and garbage emptied. Shared bathrooms are on each floor. There is a separate room with toilet and sink and another with a fully tiled shower. Hot water, and lots of it, is available 24 hours.
This hotel is listed in a number of travel guides and is very popular with budget travelers. I’d suggest making reservations as far in advance as possible, especially during the summer. I paid 30 euro for my single room and doubles with bath were 50. Their web site is: www.travelling.gr/tempihotel.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 22, 2003
Much of the standard Greek fare is available - moussaka, souvlaki, Greek salad, grilled chicken and pork and prices average 7 euro for an entrée. What makes Savvas stand out are their
house specialties. Their signature appetizer is pastourmali, a large phyllo pie filled with mild cheese, sliced tomatoes and what the waiter described as "special meat" that looked and tasted very much like pastrami or thinly sliced corned beef. I decided to take that at face value and not check into its origins any
further because it was delicious. The only drawback was the sheer size - it would easily have fed 2-3 people as an appetizer and considering I had an entree coming, I wasn’t able to finish it.
Savvas has two special entrees. Lachmatzoun is a pita stuffed with beef, veggies and their house sauce which
tastes like a combination of tzatziki, mustard and mayonnaise. I ordered the other special - giaourtloy, tender beef shishkabobs served with a tangy yogurt sauce and I would recommend it.
Next door, the take away is cheaper than the restaurant although its menu is very limited. The most popular item is gyro, a warm thick pita wrapped around a filling of shaved, cooked chicken or pork,
slices of red onion and tomatoes and their special tzatziki sauce. I came here a few times for this fast food treat. Their Greek salad was another good deal at under 3 euro. I ordered one to take back to my hotel one night and couldn’t believe the size of it. A large foil container was filled with chunks of red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, olives and green pepper and topped with olive oil and a
thick slice of feta. It came with three slices of crusty bread and was a meal in
Both the take away and the restaurant serve some of the best food in
town. Tables fill up quickly, especially the outdoor ones. Savvas is open daily for lunch and dinner but is closed on Easter Sunday and other main holidays.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 22, 2003
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For 2003, Orthodox Easter was 27 April. I arrived in Athens on 25 April, Good Friday. Tourist sights were open and Plaka was going strong but most other businesses made sure they closed at 5 or 6.
Vendors set up outside churches to sell beeswax tapers and colored plastic shields that were supposed to help keep the candles lit. Inside, the church service on Friday night was long. I came in part way through the service and, pardon the pun, it was all Greek to me but the pageantry and drama was quite interesting to observe. The real devout were in the pews and
stayed throughout the full multi hour service. Others came in long enough to kiss the icons and leave. Good thing because standing room only at the back of the church was incredibly crowded. At regular intervals, the priests circled the
interior of the church carrying crosses and swinging an incense filled censer.
Eventually, the main service was over and the congregation filed out behind the
priests. By now darkness had fallen and everyone milled about waiting for the
procession to begin. Candles were lit and there was a sense of excitement and
anticipation. Finally the procession started. Young girls with floral wreaths, alter boys carrying tall bronze crosses, black robed priests surrounding the bishop
who was richly dressed in burgundy velvet and finally men from the parish carrying a flower decked bier symbolizing Christ’s funeral bier. The rest of the parishioners fell in behind and followed the bier through
the darkened streets. Church bells tolled intermittently until the procession came back to the church. This same scene was happening throughout the city and the streets were filled with thousands of people, some of whom threw flowers onto the streets along the route. There were at least three churches within a few blocks of my hotel and whether by accident or design, they staggered the start date of their procession so that it was a continual stream of people as well as an echo-like effect as the bells were rung seconds
Saturday was business as usual except for the butchers who were run off their feet with people continually stopping by to pick up their lamb for Sunday dinner. Unfortunately, workers at the major tourist sights (Acropolis, Agora) decided to stage a one day strike so none of the attractions were open. It must have been a last minute thing because tour buses kept pulling up to the Acropolis expecting to drop off their passengers. I knew I’d be returning to
Athens in a few weeks so could visit the Acropolis then but I felt sorry for people
with limited sightseeing time.
Church services started late Saturday evening.
One church held its service outdoor in the square directly in front of my hotel with the parishioners forming a circle around the priests. It ended at midnight when church bells started ringing joyously throughout the city to commemorate Christ’s resurrection. The bells rang continuously for at least five minutes and I’m sure nobody was sleeping by the time they finished. Fire crackers exploded throughout the streets and colorful fire works lit up the night sky. Finally
everyone headed home to continue their celebrations or to grab some sleep before the big feast later in the day.
Sunday was the day to celebrate with wine, dancing and big meals of roast lamb. In Plaka many of the restaurants offered a set price, multi course meal featuring roast lamb. I wandered the narrow lanes of Anafiotika, the original part of Athens that lies just below the Acropolis. In one backyard, women were tending a charcoal pit while men got the lamb ready for the spit. In another area, a lamb was already roasting in a big metal box at the side of the road while men in the neighborhood gathered around to check its progress.
The green line (#1) is the original one and has been around in various forms for 130 years. It is the fastest and most economical way of getting to the port of Pireaus and island bound ferries. I rode the full route from Pireaus to Kiffisia, an upper middle class suburb full of big stately homes and tree lined streets. Along the route we passed the Olympic Stadium at the Irini stop. The stadium is still under construction so there was no point trying to visit. Other popular stops on this line are: Monastiraki, home to the Athens flea market and Omonia where lots of budget hotels are located.
I didn’t have much use for the blue line (#3)although plans are to extend it all the way to the new Athens airport which will be a major benefit for travelers. Currently it ends at Ehniki Amyna where airport bound travelers can then transfer to a bus for the remainder of the trip.
The red line (#2) includes Larissa where Athens two train stations are located across the street from each other. Other useful stops on the red line: Syntagma, Athens main square with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the elegant Hotel Grand Bretagne and the National Gardens nearby; and Acropoli, the closest station to the Acropolis.
Line 2 is also the one where some of the stations have been transformed into pseudo museums. I was very impressed with the Syntagma station and I’d recommend checking it out even if you’re not riding the metro (there is no charge to view the displays). The top floor is almost cavernous with a modern clock positioned above the escalator leading down to the metro. That’s about all there is of modern decor because the rest of the area is taken up with archaeological finds discovered during the excavations for the metro expansion. This was one of the largest excavations in Athens and took place between 1992 to early 1996.
Most of one wall at Syntagma is behind plexiglass and shows the various levels that were uncovered. Early Christian graves, a cistern from the Ottoman period, and a 4th-century grave with its occupant still in place. Display cases are filled with clay lamps, jars, grave stones, wine jugs, part of a floor mosaic from 4th or 5th century, an Ionic capital from 3rd or 4th century and more. All displays are well labeled and there are large poster boards describing the excavation process. The wall at the far end of the station is covered with a mural of "The Messogiaki Gate of Athens". The original painting was done by E. Dodwell (1767-1832) and replicates the original gate arch to the National Gardens. The painting seemed almost lifelike, as if I could step back in time just by walking through it.
The Acropoli station had a smaller display of artifacts. The most interesting was a group of headless torsos. They set just the right mood for the nearby trip to ancient Greece via the Acropolis just a few blocks away.
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