Athens has given us ups and downs. Some stunning food, including salads that I could happily live on for the rest of my life.
Multiple times, though, we have been short changed and this starts to become quite irritating after a while. Having to double check prices, bills and change received should not be necessary, particularly in a European capital city.
The Greek people have struck me as very friendly in the main, and always willing to help when needed. They also speak fluent English in Athens which has made getting around very easy indeed.
Getting Around Athens on Public Transport
The tube system is modern and efficient, well connected to an additional tram network which takes in some key tourist spots along the coast. We picked up 5 day public transport passes for only 10 Euros each which covers everything except routes to the airport.
Athens for Pedestrians, Elderly and the Disabled
Athens is typical of a south European city, where pedestrians must take their lives in their hands at times. The pathways are also cracked and incomplete, leaving my feet pretty worn out by the end of this trip. On the rare occasions that it rains in Athens, I would not fancy walking anywhere in this city.
There were times when Athens reminded me of my time in China – loud, aggressive traffic, the odd tricky character looking to take advantage of tourists and a clear disregard for pedestrians and the disabled. Once we became used to this, we enjoyed the trip much more.
The hustle and bustle of Athens meant we had to spend a few days on the outskirts of the city in order to get some of the rest that we desired from this trip.
3 Island Day Trip to Hydra, Poros and Aegina
The 3 island trip to Hydra, Poros and Aegina was well worth the 99 Euros each. It took up a full day, with much of the time spent on a small ferry, enjoying stunning views of neighbouring islands and passing ships.
The first island that we arrived at was Hydra, featuring quaint walkways and traditional local tavernas offering fresh seafood. We only spent 1 1/2 hours in Hydra, but would love to come back another time. When you think of a relaxing holiday on a Greek island, this is exactly the sort of thing that you would have in mind.
Hydra immediately seemed more charming, clean and welcoming than the city of Athens. There was a complete contrast as you might expect between a remote island and the large capital city. We had found relaxation and comfort at last.
There was a group of friendly cats to greet us on the harbour front, along with countless shops, bars and restaurants. Walking beyond these helped us to find narrow cobbled streets which had an ancient atmosphere, perhaps changing very little in the last few centuries.
Poros was our next destination and took around an hour to reach from Hydra.
Aegina was the final stop, and certainly the most developed of the three islands. The cruise itinerary allowed us two hours here before the last leg back to the port of Piraeus.
There were again some incredible views across the sea as well as a long harbour full of small yachts and tourist island hopping boats.
Wild cats were back again, in their droves on this island. Most looked reasonably healthy, thankfully, and Ruby chased them around the island. Wild cats always seem to be part of the fun of visiting the Mediterranean rules and order seem to go out of the window.
Aegina may have been more commercial than the previous islands but it still only took a couple of minutes walk before we were off the beaten track, seeing local life at its slow pace.
The tram network allowed us to breeze across the coast on our 5 day pass. Although many of the restaurants and bars appear to have been shutdown, there were still plenty of popular spots along this line. The air was also notably better once we had got a little distance from the main centre of the city.
Food and Drink in Athens
The food during our stay was consistently good across all of the bars and restaurants that we visited. Our appetite was much reduced in the hotter climate of Greece compared to the UK. We therefore went for lighter foods with less carbs.
The salads were supreme, large and tasty – much more filling than most I would have at home. Whole slabs of feta cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, olives rich dressings – simple and healthy eating at its best.
Seafood also served as a lighter alternative to meat and we found an excellent restaurant close to our hotel which served a decent value seafood platter at 35 Euros. This hosted fried mussels, several squid, an octopus leg, 5 large shrimps plus some local sardines. We had it twice during the trip, as well as various grilled meats in pita bread as you would expect in this part of the world.
I was drinking local beer for most of the trip, with the brands I remember being Mythos and Alfa. They were so cold and i was so thirsty that any unique tastes would have been numbed considerably and they just seemed like standard continental lager.
Greece was perhaps a little more expensive than you might expect for a country which has been going through some turbulent economic times.
Apparently prices here go up when things get tough, where as in UK we seem to end up with year-long sales and price wars. Towards the end of the trip our stash of Euros began to dwindle and so we switched from larger restaurants or smaller, cosier ones. Food for two with drinks then dropped from 50 to 30 Euros each evening.
Short-Changing of Tourists in Greece
Ruby’s boiling temper appeared several times on the trip when being over charged or short-changed by local waiters and street sellers. It was another similarity to my Chinese travels where I quickly learnt of the need to be cautious whenever money was changing hands.
Asian tourists seemed to be particularly targeted, consistently being charged more where prices were not shown. It is probably a situation repeated in London, but in areas where I would not be as a local. Some see tourists as a never ending cash cow, but the Greeks should avoid taking them for granted.
Divani Caravel Hotel
We stayed at the 5-star Divani Caravel Hotel in central Athens for a week stay.
We spent most of one afternoon enjoying the main tourist attraction of Athens – The Acropolis.
National Archaeology Museum
Pots, pots, pots… Get your fill of Greek pots right here. Its fair to say that I am not the greatest of fans of Archaeology but it is important in Athens to at least have a taster beyond just the Acropolis.
The Egyptian section offered a little variety and the museum itself was professionally put together, as you would expect for such a key national and international museum.
There were two floors of ancient artifacts plus a small Atrium in the basement with a cafe for those flagging.
There were impressive collections of jewellery here too, with amber so old that it had taken on an appearance of standard stone.
The entrance fee of 7 Euros should allow anyone to visit this eye opening museum that gives examples of how humanity developed.
Styloi Olympiou Dias
This smaller attraction was quiet, and easy to get around in half an hour or so. 2 Euros gets you a glimpse of more stunning ancient architecture.
This is one to fit in alongside other tourist spots nearby, but is great for capturing precise photographs when other locations are too busy or not as accessible.
These gardens are centrally located and well worth a visit when you get a spare hour. We were unfortunately turfed out early as the park was closing.
The gardens were a haunt for joggers and were surprisingly serene considering the mayhem going on on the other side of it’s walls.
Vouliagmeni Lake provided us with a relaxed way to spend the final day of our Athens vacation.
This lake is a popular spot for a quick dip, and easily large enough for a more substantial swim. Many local women were here keeping themselves in shape, maintaining figures at least 20 years younger than their real ages. The combination of the Greek diet and climate along with regular exercise appears to slow down the ageing process dramatically.
Our day here was curtailed by incessant rain, but we still enjoyed the day. It was fairly quiet for us, but the hotter climate of high season will certainly bring many here to cool off.
For those on a budget, 13 Euros is the entry fee and its open pretty much all day. We found the quickest way to get here was taking the tube as far south as possible, then taking a short taxi. The tram route along the coastline was stunning but took much longer as there were so many stops.