Tuesday, June 07, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Holiday: Athens

We went to Athens as the last stop on our Greek holiday with the family. After hearing mixed reviews about Athens, we decided to visit Athens as a long stop-over on our way back to London. Keenan thought I was crazy for booking the first flight out of Santorini so we can have an extra three hours of sightseeing. Yes, I may be crazy for taking at 6:55am flight, but I was working on the assumption that I will never come back to Athens again. So I rest my case and I am very glad we did! The rest of my family opted for some beauty sleep and took a later flight departing at noon for a quick 4 hr layover before heading to Istanbul, which gave them just enough time to see the Acropolis. 

Here is our day in review in Athens, by the hour:

7:00 am: Short 30 minute flight from Santorini to Athens, followed by a 40 minute metro ride from Athens airport (€8 special ticket ride on the honor system) to the city centre. 

9:00 am: Alighting the metro at Syntagma station, Athen’s main square in front of the Parliament building, we were greeted with graffiti-clad walls and the blazing hot sun. Desperately in need of a big dose of caffeine, we made made our way down pedestrianized shopping street of Ermou and sat ourselves at one of Athen's many sidewalk cafes for some people-watching. 

10:00 am: Enroute to Mt. Likavitos (Lycabettus), the hill dominating the northeastern part of the city, we meandered through the leafy posh neigbourhood of Kolonaki lined with beautiful neoclassical mansions and lovely cafes. On top of the hill, there is a fantastic 360 panoramic view of Athens. The city itself is not the most visually aesthetic city in Europe, rather Athens is sprawling, smoggy, and bursting at the seams. Definitely worth the trek but I would recommend hiking up in time for the sunset over Athens
12:00 pm: Looking for some respite from the afternoon heat, Keenan and I strolled through the National Gardens on our way to see the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian's Arch. The Temple of Zeus is largely in ruin; of the 104 Corinthian columns, only 15 remain today. 
1:00 pm: We then walked to the neighbourhood of Plaka, located just below the Acropolis. Touristy but quaint, we navigated through the labyrinthine of narrow streets in Plaka while waiting for the rest of my family to join us to visit the Acropolis. As the main tourist area, Plaka has numerous souvenir shops selling everything from postcards, trinkets, Grecian dresses, and Roman sandals.

2:00 pm: And finally, the Acropolis! I couldn't come all the way to Greece and not visit its most famous attraction. As expected, the Acropolis (€12 includes admission to other sights) was heaving with tourists including a large 20+ strong American family from New Jersey. It is worth spending a few hours taking in the sights at the Acropolis, including the Beule Gateml the Propylaia, the grand entrance to the Acropolis; the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos; Temple of Athena Nike; the Erechtheion; and the Theatre of Dionysos. 

4:00 pm: Further afield, there is also the Agora, the city's civic and center located about a 10 minutes on the base of the hill from the Acropolis. Be sure to time your visit appropriately as the Agora closes at 3:00 pm and take note that the New Acropolis Museum is closed on Mondays. My family and I got caught in a unexpected rain storm whilst walking to the Agora. Earlier in the day, I was hoping for cooler weather, but not heavy rain of biblical proportion! We took a break from sightseeing and sat down for a family lunch at nearby restaurant while waiting for the rain to subside. Afterwards, we checked out the Monastriaki neighbourhood known as the city's Flea Market district.
5:00 pm: Bid adieu to my family who flew to Istanbul for the rest of their holiday. Lucky them!


6:00 pm: Sundowner drinks along Ermou 

7:00 pm: Back to the airport for our 9:00 pm flight to London Gatwick. 

All in all, we had a great holiday with the family and we look forward to seeing more family and friends in San Francisco next month!

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