Written by actonsteve on 20 Dec, 2006
Just how good is your Greek mythology?Do you know your Zeus from your Kronos? Do you know your Hera from your Thetis? Your Perseus from your Odysseus?It helps to have some background knowledge when visiting the Athens Archaeological Museum. One marble bust begins to resemble…Read More
Just how good is your Greek mythology?Do you know your Zeus from your Kronos? Do you know your Hera from your Thetis? Your Perseus from your Odysseus?It helps to have some background knowledge when visiting the Athens Archaeological Museum. One marble bust begins to resemble another marble bust unless you recognise the name on the label. You enjoyment is a little more if you know how each god connects with the other. The Olympian family tree if you like? But there aren't just busts and statues of the Greek gods at the museum but also the Roman Emperors and the classical worlds ideal of beauty - Olympian athletes.The museum stands on 28 Octovriou, a boulevard that heads north from Omonia Square and is about a ten minute walk from Larissa railway station. It certainly looks an impressive museum from outside. Extensive grounds dotted with planes and oak trees lead up to the marble portico. The whole building is made out of red stone and stretches for 500m in either direction. The museum costs 7 euros and although you don't need to be an Oxford classics scholar to get the most out of the collection - any knowledge you do have adds to your enjoyment. And it is a museum of the old school - echoing marble corridors, arched ceilings, and rows and rows of glass cases.But yikes! What a hoard!There are 10,000 years of history on display in this building. You almost don't know where to start. I suggest turning right as you enter and the start of the Mycenean galleries. The Myceneans were great Olympian worshippers and there were busts of Hera, Thetis and Athena dating from 335BC. Followed by a number of Kouros (basic torso statues of athletic men) dug from sites near Cape Sounion. Athletic youths were a constant theme and most showed off their prowess in Olympic poses.Further on there was a fantastic bronze horse statue dug up in one piece. It stood six feet high and had a bronze cherub hanging on to its flowing mane. The goddess Aphrodite got a section all to herself and there were many statues taken from her temple at Daphne. Hercules was another favourite generally portrayed as a grizzled individual wrapped in a lionskin. Many statues came from the abandoned cemetery of Karameikos. One of my favourite gods was next - Pan! The goateed one was portrayed on the stele as gamboling with nymphs, satyrs and dryads. It was meant to look like gamboling - it looked more like sexual harassment to me..Nearby was a section on what Rome had pilfered from Greece and remains of when Greece became the Roman province of Achaeon. A long line of Emporers busts including Caligula, Tiberius and Hadrian. By now you needed a breathe of fresh air and many of the biggest statues were in the middle courtyard. Most of them were very rusty as they had spent thousands of years on the Aegean seabed as the result of shipwrecks. One had to use ones imagination to envisage Athena with a trident or Zeus with a lightning bolt.All in all, a world-class museum. And a complimentary match with your excursion to the Acropolis. And if you are a history/mythology buff you will be in seventh heaven.Close
One thing I did not expect from Athens was the number of dogs on the streets.These were not the homeless canines I have seen in the cities of some countries. But genuine, acclimatised local dogs who spend their lives outside - sleeping wherever they can.…Read More
One thing I did not expect from Athens was the number of dogs on the streets.These were not the homeless canines I have seen in the cities of some countries. But genuine, acclimatised local dogs who spend their lives outside - sleeping wherever they can. Most seem to be of pensioner age and seem to be doing it for decades. I saw tubby labradors on Syndtagma Square, imagine labradors sleeping on the pavement of Piccadilly Circus and everyone stepping over them. There were a number of them inside the entrance of the Ancient agora and when you approached they raised their heads and their tails wagged weakly. But mainly they spent their time asleep in the sun. When the heat gets too much for them they follow their chums into the bushes for a good old howl...They were one of the things lying around the superb Ancient Agora. This is your chance to get close to classical Greek ruins without the hordes that hit the Acropolis. The Temple of Hephaestus is the best example of a surviving Doric temple in the city. The whole area is littered with fallen columns, ancient statues, and the ruins of ancient buildings. This was where Athens did business 2500 years ago. When most of Europe was still lived in mud huts here Athenians discussed philosophy and mathematics. It was the centre of Athenian public life - the focal point of all art, politics, commerce, and religion. This was where Socrates and Aristotle moved amongst the spice and oil stalls trailed by followers who hung on every word. And now only ghosts, ruins and pensioner dogs inhabit this pine grove in the shadow of the Acropolis. To get there is easy. It stands next to Thissio METRO station and is a short walk to the east along one of the pedestrianised streets to Adhrianou. You can also reach it through the bazaar in Plaka, you know you are on the right street as Adhrianou is a tourist restaurant street scattered with tavernas. Although the Agora is visible from the Acropolis, the entrance is on Adhrianou so you will have to walk down from the mound. Entrance is 4 euros but it can be combined with an Acropolis ticket for 12 euros which lets you into the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Karameikos cemetery. Take water and a hat in with you as there are no refreshments inside and take your time. Even in September only lizards can cope with the heat at midday.First thing you notice that the stony yellow earth at the foot of the Acropolis is dotted with the bones of buildings some of them going back to 3000 BC. The Agora (market) has taken many forms over the millennia and at first glance can be very confusing. One building you can latch onto is the stoa (market hall) which has been recreated in stone. The stoa acted as a kind of shopping mall with about twenty shops and a long loggia of white marble is its main frontage. The loggia is dotted with classical statues some missing limbs and ravaged with age but you can still pick out the forms of goddesses and Greek heroes. Inside is a small museum which had a large scale map of the Greek empires trading links with the outside world as well as numerous recovered pottery and statuary. Incidentally, in the Agora, custom didn't allow women to participate in shopping - that was the realm of slaves.Outside are the ruins of the Agora. Most are not above knee height and it takes a bit of imagination to recreate the bustling market in your minds eye. You can just about make out the great rectangle it was formed around with the stoa at the eastern end. Most of the ruins housed Athens' administration buildings and lines of shops - something like Athens' central market today. But once in a while there is a statuary base or a fully fledged statue of a Greek warrior .But none were as good condition as the The Temple of Hephaestus which sits on a hill lording it over the Agora. A small walk uphill through the pines takes you to the preserved temple. And although you are not allowed inside you can get very close and it is a wonderfully pristine state standing forty foot high with a about twenty Doric columns. This, although smaller, is probably what the Pantheon looked like in its prime. The friezes around its roof show the adventures of Theseus and Perseus in graphic detail.Wandering around the ruins on a hot day can be hard work. If you can make your way to the National Gardens just south of Syndagma Square. One of the few green oases in central Athens this is a good place to buy an ice cream, find a seat under the shade of a palm, and take a break from the heat.Close
Do you think you will get close to the Evones?You remember the Evones? Those goosestepping soldiers that guard the Greek Parliament. Young men in tassled caps, kilts, and woolly leggings. They stride up and down with rifles over their shoulders wearing a costume taken from…Read More
Do you think you will get close to the Evones?You remember the Evones? Those goosestepping soldiers that guard the Greek Parliament. Young men in tassled caps, kilts, and woolly leggings. They stride up and down with rifles over their shoulders wearing a costume taken from the mountains of Greece. When they stop the tourists jump in, grins on their faces, and try and get their pictures taken with these symbols of Athens.I'm not a great fan of national guards being used as a tourist convenience. I've walked walked past Horseguards Parade too many times and seen tourists try and make London's own 'household cavalry' crack up and lose their composure. And I often see it as an exercise in humiliation for the amusement of the tourists. So I can't say I was a fan of the tourist scene in Syndtagma Square which really is Greece's premier central square. On one hand it's pretty impressive and surrounded by some aesthetically pleasing buildings with the eastern part is dominated by the pink sandstone Vouli (Greek Parliament). And just as impressive is the hotel Grande Bretagne where Winston Churchill came very close to being blown up on Christmas day 1944 by Greek saboteurs.But Syntagma is a good place to venture into the Greek maze that is Plaka. It's the most attractive part of central Athens. A warren of narrow streets mainly of 19th century buildings. A lot of it is pedestrianised allowing no traffic through the wonderful narrow streets with their stone staircases, ancient churches, terracotta buildings and a liberal sprinkling of ancient ruins. For that is the thing with Athens - everytime you turn a corner there is another ancient site. And Plaka has some gems - the Roman Forum, Hadrians library, Mitropolis Cathedral, the Tower of the Winds and the Lykistratos Monument. There's almost too much to take in. It is touristy - no doubt about that - but despite the tavernas and tourist shops this was when Athens began to charm me. Easily, the most enjoyable part of the city.To get there is easy. Athinas leads down from Omonia Square. But if you are coming by METRO the nearest stop is Monastiraki . Most people seem to hit Plaka when they descend from the Acropolis. The stone staircase riddled streets reach up the sides of the famous crag. For example, I blundered out onto the Roman Agora by just wandering down from the Acropolis. Around the ruined agoras sides were tourist shops where the shop owners would try and engage you in conversation to get you in (often asking you "where you from?). Then they will try and get you to buy their statues of the gods, calenders, and pictures of Greece.Another way is from Syntagma Square. The street Ermou is pedestrianised and is lined with fashion boutiques and department stores. But it leads down to Monastiraki and the start of Plaka market. You can start the market either by heading west down Ifestou or east down narrow Pandressou both streets have something of the bazaar about them. Platia Agora is impressive as it is the antiques market. Furniture takes one side of the market while candelabra, chamberpots, and brassware is spread on the ground. Ifestou is also enjoyable and is crammed with shops and hundreds of Greek tavernas. The shops sell clothes, souvenirs, counterfeit DVD's, leatherware, silverware, marble statues etc. All enhanced by old men playing barrel organs and blaring Europop music.But you may need a break and there are plenty of tavernas to choose from. So pull up a chair, order an ouzo and a plate of olives, rest those weary feet. Time to relax in the Greek sunshine.Close
Wandering back one evening down Athinas I chanced upon Platia Katzia. Opposite the 18th century Town Hall was a full square of people watching traditional Greek dancing. The sound of bazooki music floated through the air and none of the dancers were under sixty. They…Read More
Wandering back one evening down Athinas I chanced upon Platia Katzia. Opposite the 18th century Town Hall was a full square of people watching traditional Greek dancing. The sound of bazooki music floated through the air and none of the dancers were under sixty. They hardly moved out of first gear, but you got the impression they were enjoying their own culture and the crowd was lapping it up.And that is the thing about this part of Athens it is so utterly "Greek". The stretch between Omonia Square and the start of Plaka is the Greece that you travelled hundreds of miles to see. And its smack bang in the centre of the city - a rare slice of neighbourhood life in one of the most frenetic of European capitals. For there is a sense of life going on here. It reminded me of what European cities used to be like before they were taken over by chain stores and corporate hotels. You see people stop and talk to each other down Athinas - fresh food is very important and the shops are quirky and individual. Despite its traffic and concrete architecture - Athens can still be a very human city.All roads lead to Omonia Square. This is about half a mile from the base of the northern side of the Acropolis. From here you can head north down 3 Oktober street to the excellent National Archaeological Museum, or southeast down Panepestimou to the department stores and Syntagma Square, or southwest down Pireous, a massive street which eventually connects with, well, the port of Piraeus. But most people are interested in Athinas as it heads directly south to Plaka. The great sandy bulk of the Acropolis can be seen looming at the end of the street giving the city an epic feel.But Omonia Square is where its at and many tourists find themselves staying in its vicinity. It has been cleaned up immensely and is no longer the concrete 'junkie heaven' it was ten years ago. Athens, aware that the world was watching for the Olympics, put some effort and money into refurbishing it. The Albanian homeless it used to be so famous for have long gone. It still is full of monstrous sixties architecture with a Victorian effort occasionally poking through but it is most useful for restaurants, hotels, stalls, kiosks and a department store or two. It can entertaining at night as well - stalls are laid out giving it an amateur feel where you can pick up travel bags, sandals, mobile phone covers and knock-off DVD's for a few Euros. On the eastern side is a bureau de change which deals with American Express and will change up travellers cheques. The surrounding streets are also a good place to pick up essentials. In fact the more you wander the more interesting Omonia becomes. There are a couple of distinctive little shops on the sidelines. I found a tiny little bookshop which obviously does good business and you can pick up English language paperbacks to read on the islands. And a very prominent weapons shop with crossbows, long distance rifles and a large display of swords including lightsabres (I kid you not!). But the surrounding sixties buildings hide little passageways and arcades which house authentic cobblers, keysmiths and coffee houses where Athenians get their fix before starting work.Eventually you will spill out at Athinas which heads south to the old quarter of Plaka. Athinas is a terrific street. The crowds jostle and there are the prerequisite banks and hotels. But there are some very idiosyncratic shops including a pet shop where you see puppies in the window and a green parrot outside. But most people are interested in the Central Market. This is an agora in the old tradition with everything on display including meat/fish not for the squeamish. It is also very noisy - you can hear the bellowing of stallholders trying to get peoples attention from across the street The meat market is splattered with blood. If you look too closely a stallholder will shout a price at you while hacking away with a cleaver, often with dirty hands and a Greek cigarette dangling from his mouth. EU regulations be damned!The fish market stinks to high heaven and is laden with tuna, mackerel, sardines, turbots, purple squid, giant prawns and glistening calamare lying on mounds of crushed ice. As the day wears on the ice melts making the floor wet and slippery - which can be fun with crowds of shouting jostling people. Outside the market hall are a number of stalls where you can delve into huge barrels of olives, or pistachio nuts for a tiny price.All in all, I thought this market was terrific - noisy, bawdy, grimy and racuous. Just like the markets I remember as a child. Want to find the real Athens? Its right here in the Central Market...Close
The 'high city' of the Acropolis resembles the surface of an alien planet.When I was there, the ages old monument was being whipped by winds. Those same winds whipped the white gravel into swirling clouds that covered the camera wielding tourists. Doric columns lie around…Read More
The 'high city' of the Acropolis resembles the surface of an alien planet.When I was there, the ages old monument was being whipped by winds. Those same winds whipped the white gravel into swirling clouds that covered the camera wielding tourists. Doric columns lie around along with flagstones over 3500 years old, tripping up the tourists who are coming to grips with finally coming face to face with a world wonder. There's almost too much to take in - a spectacular setting, an unbelievable history, fantastic views of Athens and architecture which is copied around the world. I sometimes think the Acropolis is planet earth's year zero.According to Greek mythology Poseidon and Athena battled over the site that was to become Athens. Both offered the populace gifts if they would deem to worship them. Poseidon, god of the ocean, struck his trident into the earth and water gushed forth. While Athena offered them the humble olive - the food of life. And from then on she was worshipped on the Acropolis and the greatest temple was dedicated to her. But that is legend, in reality the Acropolis on its craggy rock has been occupied since neolithic times. The great walls come from Mycenean times about 1500 BC including the royal palaces and the start of the cult of Athena. It took the famous Pericles to build what we see today. It seemed to survive unscathed until the Turkish occupation when the Ottomans stored gunpowder in the sacred environment of the Parthenon (they even turned it into a mosque). It was inevitable that a spare spark would ignite it sooner or later. To add insult to injury some of the most precious pieces were spirited off to London by Lord Elgin to spend time in his garden. Under the guise of "protection" you understand.Lets face it, this is everyone's first stop in Athens. Even the most dedicated sun worshipper hits here before heading for the islands. The thing about the Acropolis is that it dominates everywhere in Athens. Wherever you turn, south of Omonia, you will see the mount looming above the buildings so there is no real hardship in finding it. It is, however, a tough monument to walk around so you might want to conserve your energy by getting to it the easiest way. I believe that is from Acropolis METRO station which deposits you southeast of the monument is a quiet neighbourhood. Head west and the beginnings of a park start to appear and the great crag starts to reach into the sky. The Acropolis' original intention as a fortress is obvious from below with its stone buttresses holding up the walls as they have done for millennia. The whole thing looks like it was built by giants from below - no wonder it never fell to an invader.The path up to the Acropolis has made concessions to those who are walking impaired with paths being smoothed down but there are a couple of sheer drops as you ascend. The tour group crush increases as you reach the Propylaia. Gigantic Doric columns lead you through a gate and up a steep path. The Propylaia itself is the only time on the Acropolis that you enter an ancient building. You pass through a forest of Doric columns before catching your first sight of the Parthenon.It is 'catch your breath' moment. The surface of the Acropolis near the Parthenon is immensely rocky and this and the crowds generally prevent you from getting too close. But the giant Doric facade of battered white marble is pretty impressive. Supporting columns stretch for seventy feet holding up a roof which once housed a pediment frieze which was the most famous in the classical world. Running around the roof were friezes of centaurs, amazons and giants. But its the size of the Parthenon which impresses and the fact that you are viewing a building that exemplifies Western civilisation.With far less people is the Erechtheion - the remains of the Athena temple. Its caryatids - statues of beautiful Greek maidens - are its prime attraction and they are in place of columns so appear to hold up the temple. The Erechtheion was a temple to both Poseidon and Athena and contained a trough of seawater in its precincts. It also held the sacred olive tree of Athens. The whole building was a lovely sight - bright white marble contrasting with the bright blue Athens sky.But one of the best things about visiting the Acropolis are the views across Athens. Perhaps those from the north and east are the best. It spreads for tens of miles, broken only by the green rocks of Lycabettus hill, poking out like an island from the white concrete that stretches away to the mountains. The view from the southwest is just as impressive. The mountains surrounding Athens are striking but way, way away is the Aegean and the port of Piraeus.The Acropolis is the heart and soul of Greece. And although crowded, hot and touristy it is still very impressive.You would have to have a heart of marble not to be moved by it all. Close
Written by jenandfrank on 14 Dec, 2005
We visited Athens on a Sunday, so all admissions were free, with the exception of Mount Lykkavittos Hill & Funicular. To keep within word count restrictions, I have separated some of the spots we managed to squeeze into one day, but for other attractions and…Read More
We visited Athens on a Sunday, so all admissions were free, with the exception of Mount Lykkavittos Hill & Funicular. To keep within word count restrictions, I have separated some of the spots we managed to squeeze into one day, but for other attractions and some of my notes, please see “Athens Attractions Part 2 & Notes & Thoughts”:Synatagma Square (Constitution Square):This is the center of modern Athens. Known to have "hosted" every major event in Greece, be it good or bad, the square is surrounded by the Hotel Grande Bretagne, the Athens Plaza Hotel, the King George Hotel, and the Parliament Building. We were told that the square is the scene for mass demonstrations: Greeks are famous for strikes and protest marches. Synatagma Square is also on the border of Plaka and at the beginning of Ermou Street, which is Athen’s main shopping district. It's also interesting to note that you can see the Acropolis from the square as well (unobstructed, I might add). The square is a great area to sit and read or grab lunch at one of the many open-air cafes. Syntagma Square was formerly the Garden of the Muses, where the Lyceum was founded in the 6th century BC. Aristotle lectured here to his scholars while walking, and thus they became known as the Peripatetics (walkers). RecommendedChanging of the Guard: The changing of the guard takes place everyday in front of the House of Parliament. The parade, however, only happens on Sundays at 11am and lasts less than an hour. When we first arrived at 10:15 there were a few tourists around taking pictures but not really a crowd. We walked into the gardens and 20 minutes later the street was packed with people. We were shocked and sort of confused as to where all of these people came from. That being said, don't be fooled by the lack people if you arrive early. You snooze, you lose. Evzones (soldiers) guard the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and the home of the prime minister. Evzone means "well belted" and was once used to describe soldiers known for their fighting ability. In 1864 they became the elite troops of the Greek Army. They wear navy kilts called fustanella, white stockings, red (sarouchi) shoes with navy pom-poms, and a red beret. There are about 200 Evzones in all, and they are chosen based on height and character. Similar to Buckingham Palace, these guards do not move or make any facial expressions when on post. They obviously do not speak either. Tourists get a kick out of this and stand next to the guards to take pictures and try to razz them enough to smile or move. It never happens. It was a real treat and reminded us a lot of our trip to London. The uniforms were perfect and everything was flawless. Unlike Buckingham Palace, the "show" is not done behind gates, and therefore when people line up to watch, they assume they need to be in the front. Actually, right before the parade begins, officers will make you move to stand around the perimeter. If you aren't paying attention, you will go from the front to the back of the crowd very quickly. Luckily we had a bird's eye view from our hotel terrace, so midway through the parade we ran upstairs for some aerial shots. RecommendedThe Parliament Building Once known as the Royal Palace, it is located on the slightly sloping east side of Sintagma Square (the opposite side leading into Plaka). Ludwig I of Bavaria, along with his court architect Friedrich von Gartner, came to Athens in 1835 and chose the site of the palace by laying the stone foundation. The simple, although quite large, classical-style building was completed in 1842. There was a fire in 1910 and the palace was left empty, and in 1935 the palace officially became the Parliament building. Soon after, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was built into the front wall. The relic is a copy of a dying Greek soldier found at the Temple of Aphaia. The inscription lists the battles in which the Greek soldiers have fought since 1821.National Gardens: Formerly known as "the King's Garden," most people refer to this park as the Royal Gardens. It is the best place to escape Athens without leaving the city. The National Gardens are located next to the House of Parliament, behind the tomb of the unknown solider. Filled with two duck ponds, a botanical museum, assorted zoo-like animals, statues, plants, and trees from all over the world, this park compares to no other (well, Central Park in NYC). The zoo was a big surprise, and the way it's setup, I think that was done on purpose, as you unexpectedly walk into it without any warning. It's filled with Bulgarian wolves, monkeys, peacocks, hawks, parakeets, canaries, goats, ostrich, and so many others. What a treat! The duck ponds are surrounded by kids with bread, and there are plenty of benches throughout to sit and relax. A great place for kids/families/couples and a real surprise. Much nicer than we expected. Definitely not to be missed and there is no admission fee. Highly RecommendedOlympion/Temple of Zeus: Also near the Zappion and not far from Plaka you will see the Temple of Olympion Zeus. The site of the Olympion was once inhabited by a cult of Zeus. Construction began in 515 BC but the temple was never completed because of the fall of tyranny in Athens. The King of Syria attempted to complete the construction in 174 BC, but in the end Hadrian took credit for the masterpiece and it was finished around 125 AD. A gold statue of Zeus once stood inside the temple but is no longer there. This was the largest Greek temple in ancient Athens and you truly do not realize how big it is until you walk up almost underneath it. During the Middle Ages, Olympion was used as a marble quarry and now all that remains are 15 of the original 104 columns. These columns are huge and quite beautiful. RecommendedPanathenaikos Stadium: Located across the street from the Zappion (exhibition hall), the all-marble stadium was built in the 4th century for Panathenaic contests, where over 100 wild animals were slaughtered to celebrate the inauguration of the Emperor Hadrian. Rebuilt in 1896 for the modern Olympics, the stadium sits on Arditos Hill. The stadium has seating for 70,000 and has hosted such a wide array of athletes (even the Harlem Globetrotters in 1971). I stood across the street and still could not fit the entire stadium in one-frame on my camera. The stadium and the area in front of the stadium are kept pristine. During the 2004 Olympics, many of the track-and-field events were held here. Really an incredible sight. RecommendedMount Lykkavittos Hill & Funicular: Although you can hike the stairs to the top, I really didn't see the point of giving myself the heart attack. The people who own/run the funicular obviously know that most people feel the same way I do and have capitalized on it. This was the only tourist attraction we paid for while in town (on Sunday). The cost of admittance takes you in a sliding bright yellow elevator (funicular) that looks almost like a high-tech train--up to the top of the mountain. There is not much seating: 4 seats per car and 4 cars available. It runs up and down the mountain all day very frequently, so you do not have to wait long. The cost was 4 Euros, and it was a round-trip pass. Once on top you are afforded views of the entire city. Lykavittos is after all the highest point in Athens, 910 feet above the city. There is a café, gift shop, and the Church of Agios Giorgos (built in the 19th century) located up there as well. There are two "main" legends about this hill. The first is that the hill was inhabited by wolves and the second says Athena accidentally dropped a large rock that she was going to use for the Acropolis. Every guidebook says that watching the sunset from the hill over Athens is beautiful. Although I’m sure that’s true, I think if you are short on time, this should not be a priority. Yes, the views are nice and it adds to your experience in Athens, but I think there are so many other things that are more important. The hill is also sort of out of the way, so you need some extra time to walk to the base or take a cab. Somewhat RecommendedClose
Written by beckyt on 26 Jan, 2004
I thought I better put in a small bit about ferries in Greece, since they are the main method of transport for the budget island hopper!
There are many different ferry lines and the best way to book ferry tickets is to go into any…Read More
I thought I better put in a small bit about ferries in Greece, since they are the main method of transport for the budget island hopper!
There are many different ferry lines and the best way to book ferry tickets is to go into any of the many small travel agents that are dotted around the harbours of the main towns on each island. Otherwise, you can just turn up and pay at the dockside (probably the most normal thing to do, although it can be very chaotic if it is a large ferry on one of the busier routes) or book online. There are many websites for the Greek ferry firms. A good one is www.ferries.gr>. This site has links to most of the other ferry sites and includes details of most of the main ferry lines. You can also book online, although I don’t see the point.
Arriving for the ferries is an alarming experience! For anyone that’s ever caught a P&O or Stenaline from Britain to Ireland or France . . . it is nothing like that! Those routes are nice and orderly and organised. The Greek ferries are not. Basically you turn up at dockside, and everyone is milling around and there are cars, lorries and motorbikes galore waiting to load, and pushing forward so they can get on first. There are no orderly queues like at Dover or Rosslare. Random people, not in uniform, are wandering around taking tickets of people and telling them where to go.
You generally have to get onto the boat up the ramp along with the cars etc that are loading at the same time. This can be hair-raising too, as the drivers are still in a mad rush to get a good spot for their vehicle and probably wouldn’t even notice if they knocked you off the ramp!
Once on the boat, there is a mad scramble to get seats inside. I don’t know why this is because I’ve not been on a Greek ferry yet that has air-conditioning and with the amount of cigarettes that the Greeks smoke, the air is soon hot, smoky, and quite nasty really. On the other hand, outside there is plentiful seating, generally with huge portions being under some kind of shade.
I’ve always sat outside when getting the ferries. In the daytime, it is lovely and cool in the breeze, and you can catch up on your tanning, whilst keeping an eye on the passing scenery (where there is any!). Be warned though: even though it’s nice and cool, you WILL be burning and you WILL be getting dehydrated. Sitting outside can become quite miserable when it is a night ferry journey, however. If you are planning one of these, remember to bring some warm clothes or a sleeping bag. It can get quite chilly in the breeze when there is no sun shining. And a towel wet from a day sunbathing and swimming is just not good enough! Trust me, I speak from experience. There is one reason however, which makes freezing all night on a ferry worth it, and this is the sunsets and sun rises. They are not to be beaten. I don’t know why it is, maybe the air is clearer out at sea, but the colours are amazing, and they can be especially beautiful when an island (any island) is silhouetted in the distance.
Food on the ferries is the same as one any other ferry line. Overpriced and not the best. You get the feeling that the food, whatever it is, has been sitting there for a few days. The smaller ferries may not sell food or drink at all. In any case, I advise bringing your own picnic, its much cheaper and at least you are guaranteed it’ll taste nice too! Remember to bring plenty of water; this is also overpriced on board, and with all the salt in the air, you’ll be surprised how much thirstier you are than normal.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve been on any Greek ferry line, but I remember being surprised at how cheap they were, compared with prices on Stena or P&O. I also remember being surprised at how punctual and efficiently they seemed to run. There were never any delays (not Stena sized ones anyway, them being anything over two or three hours), and they nearly always arrived at the stated time.
Written by lcampbell on 05 Mar, 2006
There is plenty more to see in a big circle around the base of the Acropolis. My friend and I started on the north/northwest side at Monastiraki because this is where our hostel was. Monastiraki is a commercial zone, with small shops and restaurants. The…Read More
There is plenty more to see in a big circle around the base of the Acropolis. My friend and I started on the north/northwest side at Monastiraki because this is where our hostel was. Monastiraki is a commercial zone, with small shops and restaurants. The main attraction is the Sunday flea market, and this is also the place to find jewelry vendors. From Monastiraki, we entered the Agora, a site that preserves the main living area of Athens communities from 6th century BC to 5th century AD. The main flashy structure is the Temple of Hephaestus. Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera, and is the god of "fire and crafts," or blacksmithing. Athena’s "close call" regarding her virginity was with Hephaestus. Poseidon had untruthfully told Hephaestus that Athena yearned for him, so when she visited, Hephaestus tried to rape her. She fought and he failed, but some of his sperm ended up on Athena’s thigh. She wiped it to the ground, accidentally impregnating Gaia (Earth goddess). Gaia rejected the baby, and Athena raised it as her own. Less obvious but still intriguing inside the Agora are the ruins of bathhouses and ancient plumbing, administrative buildings, a jail, etc. There are only pieces remaining, but in using my imagination, I could almost see the people bustling about their business, with Athena looking down from above.Directly to the west of the Acropolis is the Aerophagus, which is a small hill that was the site of the ancient criminal justice court. Nothing remains on the hill itself, but we climbed to the top anyway, and had some nice views before heading to the nearby entrance of the Acropolis (see separate journal entry). This would likely be a nice spot for sunset.To the southwest of the Acropolis is Filopappou Hill. The hill attracted me mostly because it is covered in trees. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to venture into the green space, or to see the other highlights of the hill, such as the Filopappos (Roman senator) monument, the church of Ayios Dhimitrios, or the Hill of the Pnyx (was a meeting place for democratic assembly).On the south side is the front view of the Theatre of Herod Atticus, which we had looked down into from the Acropolis. That is the better view. A little farther along, on the southeast side, is the Theatre of Dionysus. According to Rick Steves guidebook, this is where "the masterpieces of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes were first performed." Built originally of timbers in 600 BC, it was upgraded to stone in 342 BC. At one point it was used for gladiator fights, and most recently, in 2003, I guess it hosted a Jethro Tull concert (huh!?!).There is plenty to see on the east and northeast side of the Acropolis. If you have more than 1 day in Athens, this area might be best tackled on a new day. Hadrians Arch is a couple blocks east from the Acropolis, across a busy street, and is the starting point for a number of interesting sites. Next to the arch to the east, The Temple of the Olympian Zeus is impressive for a number of reasons. This was the largest temple built in Athens, and rightfully so, as Zeus is considered the supreme god of the Olympians, ruler of the universe, all-knowing and all-powerful… you get the picture. There are 16 standing columns, all that remain of the original 104. One bit of information that I read said it was likely ruined by an earthquake. Ironic, as Zeus was considered the god of earthquakes as well. Because the columns stand in a wide-open flat area, the size of them seems more overwhelming than the ones I had seen on the temple remains of the Acropolis and Agora. I was able to walk up quite close to them as well, and there were only a handful of people there compared to the masses at the Acropolis. Also very cool was the two columns that were tipped over, allowing me to see exactly how they were made. I guess one of them blew down in 1852. Other large pieces of columns were scattered around the site for close examination.Northeast of the entrance to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus is the Zappion gardens, the National Gardens, Pariliament building, Tourist Office, Syndagma Square, and numerous smaller museums. Just a block northeast of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, on Vasil Olgas, we found the tram stop to the coastal beaches and to Pireas, where the island ferries depart. This whole area could take up oodles of time. We didn’t have it, so we skipped it. I would have loved to have more time to explore.Getting back closer to the Acropolis, on the northeast side, is the neighborhood called Plaka. The guidebooks that I looked at before my Athens trip all described Plaka as having "character"—whatever that means. It was a cute little area with narrow stone streets, interesting architecture, pedestrian friendly, flowers, and outdoor cafes. But it was also obviously a tourist zone, rather than an area for locals, but pleasant nonetheless. This is a great area to get a decadent sample of Baklava, a pastry dripping with local honey, said to be the sweetest in the world.There is a single ticket to get into Agora, Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Theatre of Dionysos, and Kerameikos. The price is 12 euro (6 for non-EU students and free for EU students).Close
It is possible to see most of the Ancient Stuff around Athens in 1 day, but 2 days would be best. The AcropolisMost of the Ancient Stuff around Athens is clustered in one area—the Acropolis ("upper city") and surrounding land just below. The Acropolis is…Read More
It is possible to see most of the Ancient Stuff around Athens in 1 day, but 2 days would be best. The AcropolisMost of the Ancient Stuff around Athens is clustered in one area—the Acropolis ("upper city") and surrounding land just below. The Acropolis is a giant limestone bench, perhaps 100m high, which dominates the landscape. Originally the site of more ancient temples, which have long since disappeared, the structures that stand on top of the Acropolis today are the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. All were constructed in the 5th century BC.We entered the Acropolis area from the west side. Bags are not allowed, so we checked our backpacks at the booth. After passing through the gate, but before reaching the top, we stopped to look over the edge to the south/southwest. Here we were able to see down into the Theatre of Herod Atticus, built in 161 AD, and still used for theatre, ballet, and musical performances.Continuing to the top, we first passed through a gateway of columns and buildings under scaffolding, called the Propylaea. On the other side, the three temples rose up into the sky even higher, and there were crowds of people around each one.The Parthenon is dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. Greek mythology says that Athena was the daughter of the supreme god Zeus and Metis. While Metis was pregnant with Athena, a prediction was made that the next child after Athena would overthrow Zeus, so Zeus proceeded to swallow Metis (logical, yes, I know). Anyway, Athena was then born out of Zeus’s head, and became the Olympian goddess of war and wisdom, and crafts and domestic arts. Athena was a virgin.Athena became the patron goddess of Athens after a battle with her uncle Poseidon (brother of Zeus). On top of the Acropolis, Poseidon drove his fork into the ground, causing salt water to flow, in an effort to show his worthiness to the people of Athens. Athena planted an olive tree, which was deemed the greater act, and she became the patron goddess. On the site of the "battle" between Athena and Poseidon is the Erechtheion. The eye-catcher on the Erechtheion is the porch of the Maidens of Caryatids.The third temple on top of the Acropolis is the Temple of Athena Nike, built in honor of Athena’s victory over the Persians. Athena avoided war, but when forced to fight, was said to be nearly invincible.Unfortunately, Athena wasn’t around during the 17th-century war between the Turks and the Venetians. If she was, maybe the Turks would not have used the Parthenon as a powder magazine, which exploded when hit by a Venetian bomb, destroying much of the temple and surroundings. The temples have been partially refurbished, but there is still plenty of scaffolding around to block the views.Make sure to check out the small underground museum west of the Parthenon as well. Much is preserved in the museum, but most of the main statuary was either destroyed or stolen. The thief is alleged to be a British ambassador who took items that are now in the British Museum.Close
I loved being in Athens with my friend Shannon. Earlier in the trip, we had almost missed our flight from Berlin to Athens. Our response? If we miss it, let's just take the next flight, regardless of where it goes.Needless to say, we made the…Read More
I loved being in Athens with my friend Shannon. Earlier in the trip, we had almost missed our flight from Berlin to Athens. Our response? If we miss it, let's just take the next flight, regardless of where it goes.Needless to say, we made the flight (by 1 minute!) and spent a couple days exploring Athens tourist sights. But, like me, Shannon is always itching to move, so we wandered to the bus station to see where we could go for a day. We had three possibilities, of which we knew virtually nothing about. To choose, we decided to use a similar strategy as the one we conceived at the airport – we would take whichever bus leaves first.We ended up going to Napflio, a small coastal town around 2 to 2.5 hours from Athens. The only other tourists on the bus were two ladies from London, and they had heard how great Napflio was, and were going to spend a couple days. This encouraged us that we had make a good choice.When we arrived in the town, we discovered that Napflio is a big tourist destination, as evidenced by the multitude of shops and restaurants with English menus. But as it was early November, almost everything was closed up, with not a tourist in sight. Besides the London ladies, we had the whole place to ourselves! Immediately upon exiting the bus, we saw a huge castle on top of hill overlooking the town. We swiftly found the start of the stairway, and 999 steps later, we were looking over a castle wall at the scenic town nestled between hills on the aqua blue water of the Mediterranean Sea.We explored the middle-century castle, which was much larger than we could see from down below. It is actually made up of three fortresses, required as Napflio was an important port and one-time capital of Greece. The views were incredible, as were the ancient fortress walls, starting to crumble with plants growing in them.Before descending, we noticed a walking path going around another hill along to water and back into town. After a walk through town, this was to be our next exploration. Napflio town is truly beautiful. There were narrow stone streets meandering, with hidden staircases and pretty flowers cascading. We climbed around and up and down, enjoying the peacefulness of the off season. I was definitely wishing we could stay longer.As we headed around to the coastal path, it started to rain. We pushed on anyway. While we enjoyed the lovely path, we were soaked and cold by the end. Taking it in stride, we made our way to a small café, where we had some hot tea and snacks.During the bus trip, we had met a Greek Russian man named Cristos. He was born in Russian but was Greek by ancestry, and had only lived in Greece for 15 of his 35 years. This was his first trip to Napflio as well, and he had just come for the day, like us. When he discovered that a nearby ancient archaeological site (Mikenos) was closed, he joined us for the day.After the castle, Cristos walked with us some more and then wandered off for a bit. He found us again at the café and took out a bottle of ouzo he had just purchased. Ouzo is a traditional Greek drink, but he said that his one was made special in a nearby town and was the only ouzo in Greece to have 59% alcohol content! I’m sure it goes without saying that rubbing alcohol might have tasted better than this stuff, but it did provide a nice warming sensation after our chilly walk!We purchased a few chocolates for the bus ride home, and we were off back to Athens.Close