Europe 2008, with the nieces

Athens | Mykonos | Austria | Prague | London

First stop, Athens

Where at the horrible London Heathrow airport were we going to meet Hillary?

We had just arrived from San Francisco, survived the endless messy maze of Heathrow ("The worst airport in the world"), recovered our bags, and were checking in for the onward flight to Athens. We said that we'd meet her at check-in, but it took a long time for her to show. She eventually did, looking OK after her long flight from El Paso.

From London to Athens (You can click on each photo to see more thumbnails, and to enlarge the images.)

The Athens flight was late, but otherwise uneventful. Without too much difficulty (but some confusion) we made our way by train to the Athens Backpacker Hostel, and dumped our luggage into the apartment (once we found it—the apartment was in a different building from the office, and around a few corners).

Horiatiki (Greek salad), bread, beer

It was quite late, and most restaurants were closed, but there was a nearby restaurant which was willing to serve us a simple meal. The owner spoke no English, but we knew horiatiki and beer, so we were set. It was a warm night, and the salad and beer made for a perfect welcome to Greece. We finally got to sleep around 2:30 AM.

At 7:50 AM, a forceful, loud, whirr-grind-whirr-bang-bang started next door. The noise was so loud that it was impossible to sleep, even with earplugs and jet lag. We had no idea what was happening. Roswitha craned out the balcony, and discovered that the building next door, connected to our wall, was a large construction site.

Nescafe for breakfast - yuck

Bushes in pots bordered a restaurant just downstairs, making the place look gardened and homey. Too bad that the food did not fit the comfort of the place. The only coffee they had was Nescafe (ugh!), and the pickings were limited; we did not return to that place. What's the deal with Nescafe, anyway? Many countries have a tradition of great coffee, yet this abomination is making horrendous inroads. We exchanged money at a bank, with service that rivaled Italian banks for slow, confusing, and surly.

Since we did not yet have ferry reservations to Mykonos, that was the next priority. EOT gave us wrong ferry info, and was generally unhelpful. So we went into a tiny travel agent to try to book something. At first the grandmotherly agent was disinterested but helpful. Since we were heading out on a Saturday, almost every ferry was booked, but we did manage to find a fast ferry from Piraeus that did not leave before OMG-o'clock. Eventually, I was able to engage and entertain the agent—I tried to trade Roswitha for the ferry tickets. Why not—in Morocco I almost traded her for goats.

Galotiri - yum

We did some internet, then had lunch at Tzitzakis & Mermigas, a delightful restaurant near Syntagma (I called it Stigmata) Square. Starved and inspired by the menu, we ordered too much, including horiatiki, galotiri (yogurt & herbs), mastihato (chicken fillet in nest of kadaifi with sauce from Chios mastic and bacon), and grilled nests (beef leaver [sic] and foiled cheese in lamb skin).

Respect art!

After lunch, we wandered through the touristy Plaka, working our way slowly towards our final goal, the Acropolis. Along the way, we stopped into well-decorated churches, discovered the very cute Church of Theotokos Gorgoepikoos and Ayios Elytherios (a long name for a small church), took note of interesting-looking restaurants and shops, and eventually followed our noses uphill to the Acropolis, making sure that we did not accidentally head up the wrong hill to Lycabettus. Just past the unchanging Church of the Metamorphosis, we found a little-used entrance to the hill.

A ripe caper berry

The path took us past the Odeum of Herodes Atticus on the south side of the hill (from which we could see our apartment) and to the main entrance, which is under heavy reconstruction.

Inspiration?

For the most part, the hill was not very crowded, except at a few pinch points and scenic locations. Roswitha gave a short lesson on the various types of columns. (You remember them all, right, Hillary?) The last time we'd been on the Acropolis, it was possible to walk inside of the Parthenon, and the Acropolis museum was open. Now, the old museum location is closed, and they've built a new one at the base of the hill, right near our hostel. Sadly, it has seen many delays (missing the Olympics, to the outrage of the Athenians), and was not yet open.

Nymphaea

Fortunately, the day was not too warm, and the sky was clear, so we had great views of the Agora, Lycabettus hill, the Temple of Zeus, the Hippodrome, and Athens spreading out around us. The Acropolis is a constant work in (slow) progress, so there are sorted piles of pieces of columns and buildings all around. Dogs and cats seemed to be enjoying the day as well.

 

The Agora, Lycabettus, and the Acropolis

 

OK, now take off your head

Without getting too lost, we headed down past more fallen columns into the Agora, and to the dramatic Stoa of Attalos, with its photogenic Doric colonnade. The museum inside has a range of antiquities, plus some docents who say, "NO PHOTO!"

Near sunset, we found ourselves at the Temple of Hephaestus and Athena Ergane, which looks across the Agora to the Stoa and has a good view back to the Acropolis. Since I'm collecting masks of gods and demons related to fire and volcanos (to place around my BBQ area at home), I was inspired to hunt for a mask of Hephaestus, but this god of the forge does not seem to be part of the tourist pantheon.

Nope, not gonna ride that.

Suddenly, conveniently, we found ourselves having drinks at sunset, watching the sunlight change over the ancient Acropolis. And right next to the road where the tourist train passed by every few minutes.

Souvlaki for dinner!

It was now time to debate dinner. Should we go back to the hillside restaurants near Plaka? Over to Gazi? Something near Stigmata? Just head back to the hostel, where there were several restaurants? Try to cook something in our little kitchen? We discovered that we were not too far from Monastiraki Square, well-known for its many souvlaki restaurants, so the decision became clear. The restaurants are concentrated on Metropolis (Mitropoleos) Street; we just peeked at each one, checking out the menus, looking at people's tables, and listening to the arguments of the hawkers. Once we chose one, we enjoyed horiatiki (of course), roasted peppers, tzatziki, pork souvlaki, and the gorgeous evening.

From the rooftop bar

The Backpackers is famous for its roof bar, which perches precariously above the nearby buildings. It is filled with horny Aussies and Americans, budget travellers with good stories, and has a fantastic view of the Acropolis. So, even though we were tired, we decided that we had to check it out. It was crowded, hard to get to the harried bartender (the only person resembling adult supervision), windy, and lots of fun. It closes early so that the neighbors don't complain too much, so we were run out with everyone else, only to collapse into bed. Right on the other side of the wall to the construction project.


Cheese pie for breakfast

For some odd reason, we woke up abruptly at 7:50 AM, determined that we need to have coffee available in the room—I ran out to get some for our jet-lagged brains—showered, and then went to breakfast at one of the better-looking places up the street. We had real coffee, a cheese pie, a ham & cheese sandwich, and a crepe. Then we were off to the central market, which was boring, as markets go. Meat was in refrigerated cases, and the fish looked mostly frozen. Hillary did not like the looks or smells.

Very yellow chickens

Then we were off to the central market, which was boring, as markets go. The meat was in refrigerated cases, and the fish looked mostly frozen. Hillary did not like the looks or smells. I, of course, loved it, even if the fish was strong-smelling. There was a wide range of fish, interestingly displayed. Even though the meat was refrigerated, it still looked like meat, and the chickens looked completely delicious.

Candied fruit

Roswitha found a coffee roaster that had several different types of coffee, and bought a bag. They also had jars of candied fruit that caught the light at the window. The vegetable market was small compared to the meat and fish; we did not really see any novelties, other than popcorn—its best feature was the sign. We walked through the schmatah district, checked out an alternate hotel for the one return night (The Alma, but it was yucky), had a quick gyros lunch, molested some pigeons, and headed for the National Archeological Museum.

Bronze boy on horse

The National Archeological Museum is one of the real treasures of Athens. It houses many of the artifacts discovered all over the country, and some are in phenomenal condition. One of its most famous (and heavily marketed) items is the golden mask of "Agamemnon," but its range of jewelry and sculpture is wonderful, vast, and eventually boring. We did get “Don’t touch” hurled at us a few times, making us laugh due to an experience in Athens in 1996; it must be said with a heavy accent. One guy wanted us to delete a size reference photo. (We have a silly habit of shooting someone holding a coin—for absurd size reference.) It is easy to spend more than half a day in the museum, but we eventually had had enough. Just outside the museum we relaxed and had a frappe.

On the train

At Roswitha’s suggestion, we took the Metro to the end of the line, to Kifissia. Getting onto the train, a guy blocked my way, trying to push me into a woman who tried to pilfer my pockets, but I figured out what was happening; she only got as far as undoing the pocket buttons. (As usual, they were likely attracted to my big, shiny camera.) We found the rumored high-end shopping area, which was large, and like a high-end mall, with numerous recognizable global names. Shopping success was experienced. But we never found out the deal with the bubble gum on the trees.

Tasty tapas

Oddly, we did not find many restaurants in Kifissia's shopping area, which seemed to be visited mostly by locals. We eventually found Barceloneta, a Spanish tapas restaurant, and had chorizo con manchego, pan con tomate (with anchovies), pinxtos gambas, jamón asparrago, papas bravas, albondigas “snob” (with blue cheese – tasty), pork 3 ways (jamón, chorizo, bacon in a great sauce), and garbanzos with spinach. We did not eat horiatiki. We then took a train ride back home, cautiously eyeing everyone who seemed to be eyeing us.


Artistic salami

In spite of the construction, we managed to sleep in until 10:30. After a quick breakfast of coffee and ham & cheese toasts & coffee (with translation help by another customer), we set off towards the beach, with little idea of where we were going.

The trams from Athens to the coast were easy enough, with good signage, but we got to the end of the line and figured out that the end of the line was not where we wanted to be. Hillary had noticed that everyone else got off at Ammos Beach, so we headed back there. Being Friday, it was not that busy, so it was easy to find chairs and an umbrella, which we had to pay for, of course. We settled in for some sun, reading, a lunch of things we had picked up (olives, great packaged tzatziki, flat bread, baby bel cheese, tomatoes, and some kick-ass salami with green peppercorns adorning the sides). We just had to make sure that we did not fall asleep and screw up our jet lag.

Souvlaki by the sea

As the perfect day wound down, we headed out and rode a few stops to Eden Beach Restaurant/Bar, where we had horiatiki, baba ganoush (or the Greek version of it), souvlaki, and fried mullet, while watching a perfect sunset. We rode back in, had some ice cream, did some internet, and packed for tomorrow’s early ferry ride to Mykonos. We left one bag at the hostel office, locked to a railing. We wondered if it would still be there on our return.

 


The next day, we left for Mykonos.

 


Athens | Mykonos | Austria | Prague | London
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