So we arrive. The pass through the airport was straightforward all that was required at this point was proof of double vaccination and that we had. I should explain that I am on my daughters gap year and as such the plan is to travel on a budget as students do. We are booking accommodation as we go and that being the case we have booked through “Hostelworld” our first pit stop, Hawks hostel in Athens city centre. As agreed this is a no frills adventure so we hop on a bus with our backpacks. Roisin has packed with restrained consideration using one 35 L backpack, whereas I packed my 60 L backpack and my 40 L wheelie bag with all the stuff I might need to bring some comfort on this enforced frugal escapade. I was also warned not to expect any assistance if the luggage got too much for me, If I couldn’t carry it I should leave it. So I heave the giant rucksack on to my aging back and dragging my wheelie we get onto the bus. I dared not take the bag off as I feared I would not get it back on when the bus stopped. I balanced on the edge of the seat with with my bag taking up most of the space behind me. I had already decided that when we got off the bus I was getting a taxi to the hostel and Roisin was welcome to join me or meet me there.
We make our way into the hostel and present ourselves at the reception desk. The ladies behind the counter are very pleasant and helpful but I get the distinct impression that I don’t belong, I’m out of place here (too old). There is a washing machine going behind the counter, I later discover that laundry is an additional service offered to the travellers. Anyhow, Roisin has booked herself into a dorm, which was a step too far for me, I have booked myself into a private double room with ensuite. Its basic has damp patches on the ceiling and I pray to god this is not a reflection of what’s to come on the rest of this trip, but its good enough, clean sheets and clean bathroom and this is no frills. Went directly to bed and having slept for a few hours decided to venture out. At this stage it was dark so heeding the taxi drivers advice we booked an Uber to take us to Alexander the Great, a restaurant which had excellent reviews and well deserved from my experience there. Very relaxing and friendly atmosphere. We discovered Ubers are inexpensive in Athens which is not the situation with hailing a taxi on the street. We hailed a taxi and were taken to the hostel. The view of Athens as we drove was beautiful. The streets were lined with orange trees in full fruit. There were many beautiful municipal buildings common to most European states. Busy commercial streets with all the high-street brands, so common in Europe and then onto the not so common streets housing the Gucci’s and Rolex’s. The hostel is in none of the streets I just mentioned and as we moved from the opulent to the grim backstreet we were in a different world and one in which many Greeks feel weary and suspicious of. On dropping us off the taxi driver told us not to wander these streets after 10 pm, the picture bears no relation to where we were dropped, I’m not a happy camper.
Lycabettus Hill had a fabulous viewing point overlooking the city and the Acropolis. There is a cable car that can be accessed from the corner of Ploutarhiou and Aristippou street. We ordered an Uber to the cable car station. It was dark when we arrived and there was no one around, no station guard, no one in the shop, barely any lights on. There was a small gift shop just beside the cashiers desk and we were surprised to see that although the lights were off the door to the shop was open. We tried to check what time the station closed but there was no mobile signal and so we decided to wait a while. Being the nosy individual that I am, I was bursting with curiosity as to why the lights of the shop were out but the door was clearly open. The Greeks are a very relaxed and laid back people but leaving a shop open at the end of a day was incredibly trusting by anyone’s standards. I stuck my head around the door and shouted a hello to which a lady responded. She came from the back of the shop and proceeded behind the counter of the station. We asked if there was a cable car to the top and she told us there would be one in ten minutes. It was €15 for two return tickets, the last return cable car was at 11 pm as it was 8 pm we had plenty of time to enjoy the view and check out the restaurant. Only snag at this stage was we had to have cash to pay for the ticket. Luckily for us we did. We paid the fare but didn’t receive any tickets nor did we ask as I assumed she was the controller and remembered all the patrons. We sat on the cable car, just to get out of the cold. We were joined by a couple who seemed to have the same difficulty as us in finding the station master who we thought was the shop keeper. But unlike us they got tickets, which we discovered, when we got to the top on the cable car and was met by the real controller there. I insisted that we had paid the lady at the bottom and as I was able to describe her in detail, he eventually believed me. We made our way through the bar and the restaurant to the viewing point and on every turn the view was ever more spectacular. When we finally got to the platform by the church, we were treated to a panoramic night lit view of the city to the dark sea coastline. It was breath taking. We stayed there an hour or so. There is a lovely enclosed restaurant area, so shelter from the cold winds with beer and a shared baklava to enjoy the city scape. We got the cable car back down the mountain and tried to book an Uber. Uber only works when there is a signal and this was a black spot. There was a taxi waiting just outside, the same cab we had seen when we arrived an hour earlier. I did wonder how he made any money as there were so few people around and not many tourist but I soon had this conundrum answered. As I said the yellow cabs and the Ubers are the same and the journey that took 15 minutes and cost €5 in an Uber now cost €15. So I paid the fare and chalked the whole event up to experience. How did he make his money? Well my guess is that he knew the dumb tourists would realize there was no signal and therefore no alternative. Shooting fish in a barrel is the term that springs to mind. So the solution is to book the Uber in advance to pick you up at a fixed time, lesson learned and a relatively cheap lesson at €15. So thank you Mr. Taxi man.
We went to see many of the tourist sights while in Athens and I would recommend a visit to the Acropolis museum. Moreover, I would suggest that you give this a day as there is plenty to see. There is a lovely restaurant in the museum and from this you can see the Acropolis on the hill above. The most interesting display in the museum for me was the archaeological excavation under the museum for which you have to exit the main building and access to the side of the main gate.
A word about Ubers
We discovered Ubers are inexpensive in Athens which is not the situation with hailing a taxi on the streets. What is surprising is that the yellow cabs that are standard in the city also operate as Uber. Unlike Uber, where you know the cost before you accept the journey, getting into a yellow cab that you have hailed from the street gets very pricy. A taxi fare costing €5 for a 10 minute trip on Uber, cost us €17 when hailed on the street. I know there are plenty reading this page, who from the comfort of their homes probably say we should have argued or refused to pay but seriously, two women traveling alone who don’t speak the local language, I prefer to chalk this up to experience. Uber is great in Greece. You get your drivers name, his registration and the time he will pick you up, even a notice to say he’s here now so that the entire transaction is as safe as can reasonably be expected.
Highlights of Greece
1. Walking Tour
Went on a walking tour. One found on ‘FreeWalkingTours’. I always like to do one of these on the first day I arrive in any city. They show you the main tourists spots and also the lesser known places. I should add they are not free but payment is discretionary and based on your experience. So consider the length of time the guide spent with you and the knowledge he shared. These guides tell you the places to eat that aren’t tourist traps or at least that has been my experience in the past. A good guide is not just sharing historical facts but will give you an insight into the way locals would see their city, a good guide will not lead you to the end of a tour to park you at a restaurant where he is clearly getting a kickback. I tipped the guide and I ate at the restaurant he had delivered us to just to confirm my suspicions. Tourist menu and tourist prices. Our student doctor guide (as he told us) was very informative of the many historical buildings, the amphitheater, the parks, the palaces, the changing of the guard, even the street of craft shops near the end of the walk to buy our Greek souvenirs. But unlike the many similar tours I had taken in many European cities over the years, I had no useful information as to how to find the preferred places of the locals. So would have to say I was a little disappointed with this particular guide but perhaps I should have asked more direct questions, as Róisín says she loved the tour.
2. Changing of the Guard
The changing of the guard at 11 am on the first Sunday morning of every month is spectacular. Syntagma Square (Πλατεία Συντάγματος) is the place to be. It gets very crowded but I found a good viewing point to the left of the square, just to the side of the guard boxes. Perhaps if you get there earlier you might be lucky enough to grab a spot right in front but with the crowds you will have difficulty holding onto to it, but give it your best shot. The pomp, the ceremony, the history, the choreography of the march, the marching band and the grand dress of the guards is all worth the effort and should not be missed.
3, Some of the Best and Most Interesting Places to Eat
A few memorable places and certainly not a definitive list. Alexander The Great at Karaiskaki square was a real little gem. Plenty of traditional dishes which we shared so as to cover a few dishes on the menu. Lovely place with attentive staff.
The cafe in the Benaki museum is worth a visit if just for the view over the training yard for the changing of the guard. I can not comment on the food as I only had cake and a coffee but both were excellent. The museum charges an entry fee, pricy at 12 euros, but if your there stay for a coffee and admire the city from the balcony (Róisín's admission was free because they believed she was under 18 years old).
The best place I ate while in Athens was the Black Duck Garden. Beautiful court yard tucked away off Paparrigopoulou Str. I loved everything about this place. My one regret was that I didn’t discover it sooner as we were leaving the following day. Well worth a visit to this quiet courtyard setting away from the bustle of the city for a relaxing mid-morning brunch.
4. Cape Sounion
We took a day trip to the Temple of Poseidon and our guide on that trip was exceptional. A beautiful luxury coach picked us up at the preassigned meeting point. It was a miserable rainy day and it was a relief to get into the comfort of this lovely warm coach. Left the city, surprised that we were the only tourists on this escapade. As we traveled down the coast the rain cleared to a bright blustery day. Passing through many coastal villages we were treated to the unusual spectral of many wind surfers, unusual because according to our guide, the Greek coast rarely gets high winds . We managed to make it to Poseidon's temple just as the sun was going down, it was beautiful. You cant help but think of the thousands of people over thousands of years, who had stood on this same spot and watched the sun descend into the sea. I will share the link at the end of this post.
Cape Sounion Sunset Tour: https://www.getyourguide.com/athens-l91/half-day-sunset-tour-cape-sounio-t102461/
One Final Note
One final note before I leave Athens, the best massage I have ever had was at the Massage Point Athens, on Mavrommateon 10682. If you are planning a trip to Athens add this to your plans. Peaceful, calm and reflective. There is no rush as the entire experience is to relax from the moment you enter to when you leave. On entering you will be brought to a lovely sitting room where you will be given a tray with a herbal tea and a variety of fruits and these you are obliged or rather told to sit and enjoy your shoes are taken away in a basket for you to pick up after your treatment. You are given a pair of slippers and when you have finished your tea brought to a treatment room. The suites are very generous in size and very relaxing. When you are finished your treatment again you are returned to the sitting room for more tea and you are eased back into the real world. I also have to add the price was at least a third less than the usual European prices. This will be the yard stick that I will measure every other treatment I get on this world trip of mine. I did book another treatment for the day we were leaving but a mishap with the Uber brought me to the wrong location. Let me tell you about it...
While traveling to the massage center I received a call from Roisin which I missed. She had decided to walk up to the Acropolis while I was having my treatment. When I tried to return the call I couldn’t get through. I must have made about 15 calls in the space of 15 minutes on every app possible so its fair to say I was distracted and didn’t notice the taxi going miles away from the direction I booked. Now Roisin was climbing to the Parthenon that morning and was ringing me to check if I made it to my destination, but I had visions of her being murdered and I being her last contact, didn’t know how I could justify to a judge the call received from my daughter with no additional contact, “Ms Glennon, so you received a call from your daughter and being unable to contact her you decide to go for a massage!” I managed to contact her just before I lost signal again and ended up in the back streets. Now I had no mobile signal and I had no way of figuring out how I had ended up in the wrong location and now miles from my accommodation. I was in a back alley suburb about 20 minutes outside the city and the taxi driver was asking me to get back in the cab. I did not trust this guy as I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong but I was starting to see a pattern, taxi drivers and no bloody signal! I told him to go on his way and I just picked a direction to try to get back to main roads. I walked for about half a mile before I could get signal which told me I was going in the wrong direction. I had contacted the massage place and, although I only received the message much later, they were offering to send a cab if I could give my location. Service above and beyond and totally unexpected but very much appreciated. I walked the road for about a mile and hopped on a bus heading in the direction of the city. I should add, we had bought a transport ticket on our first day which covered all modes of transport around the city for 5 days for the sum of 7 euros. This ticket excludes the airport but all other city destinations are covered. Made my way back to the hostel just in time to pick up our bags and head to the airport.
I was glad to be leaving Greece, as lovely as Athens was, it was not like your normal picturesque island resort. I was on the train, just inside the door and holding onto the central bar. These two guys got on too, one being very tall and the other a small guy who looked like a student. He was smaller than me and when he reached to hold the bar above my hand and his hand slipped touching mine, so he apologized. I really didn’t think much of this until it happened a second time and he didn’t move his hand. I thought how odd he clearly was uncomfortable the first time, yet here he was doing it again. The thought then came into my head, of all those documentaries I had watched over the years saying that pickpockets will try to distract you in order to search your pockets. I checked to see if the pocket on the right side of my coat was still closed and then the left side. I looked down to see his hand being quickly pulled back behind the rucksack he was wearing on his chest and realized my zipper was half open. I went mad, shouting at him, called him a Sh!t, a thief, Olive went full blast. He and his tall colleague stared looking at the ceiling of the train. I was shouting at the pair of them that I saw what he was doing and I had no intention of backing down. The pair decided the best course of action was to get off the train. So over all glad to be getting out of Athens.
We left Athens on the 7th of December and made our way to Jordan.
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.