We landed in Athens about 9:00 am, and found the X95 bus for 5 Euro each which took us straight into the heart of Athens to Syntagma Square. We had booked a nights at the InterContinental Athenaeum ( see this post on how we booked the free night there.) While in this tourist area, we changed some money and bought a SIM card to go into the burner phone we brought with us. This would be the first time that we would have a local phone number and we found it really useful in a few situations in the Islands.
We changed money at an ATM off of Syntagma Square, and were surprised to see huge service charges (from 4-6%) from the banks there. Athens was the only place we ran into these obnoxious services charges. If anyone knows of any ATMs in the Athens area that don’t assess these charges please let me and everyone else know. The IC Athenaeum runs a free shuttle from Syntagma to the hotel, and we only waited a few minutes for it to arrive. When we got to the Athenaeum, there were a million kids and their parents checking out after attending a sports competition. We were not able to check in immediately to our room because the hotel had been completely full the night before. We were offered free coffee while they readied our room, but we still had to wait about an hour.
The IC is about a mile from all the sights and action in central Athens and is just off Syngrou, which is one the main traffic-clogged streets in Athens. If you stay here, don’t even think about eating any overpriced meals at the hotel restaurant. Walk northeast on a side street that parallels Syngrou, until you come to Drakou, which is pleasantly shaded pedestrian way with many tavernas and cafes.
You’ll find plenty of tourists, but there are many authentic restaurants with reasonable prices. We ordered two souvlaki skewers, a Cretan salad (basically a Greek salad on a huge toasted bagel, and a couple of beers, all for 17 Euro.
The next morning we left the hotel on foot at 7:00 am, and stopped at a cafe for coffee and pastries on our way to the Acropolis Museum. That was our main destination for the day, since we had visited the Acropolis and Roman Agora on a cruise-ship port day, and had just visited the National Archeological Museum on our way to Crete in December. We happened to be in Athens on National Museum Day, when entrance to all national museums are free, so we decided to hike up the Acropolis before visiting the museum. We were there early so there were few tourists. The scaffold-covered Parthenon looks the same as it did last time we were there 10 years ago,
The scaffolding will probably be there for the next 50 years. As we were leaving the hordes had begun to arrive. We walked down the hill to the Museum, which contains many of the goodies from the Acropolis (minus the ones stolen by the British, eg., the Elgin Marbles.) as well as some kouri and other artifacts from an earlier acropolis on the same site which burned in 480 BC during the Persian invasion. Like the Borghese Museum in Rome, the Acropolis Museum is just the right size, and your can leisurely see everything in just under two hours. Here is a picture of the original Caryatids, which held up the Porch of the Maidens in the Acropolis.
We returned to the hotel via the shuttle and had a nice European siesta as we had arranged a 2:00 pm checkout. We then took the shuttle back into town and had a nice lunch of grilled squid, wild green salad, and beer (21 Euro). We then walked down the hill to cruise by Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, the largest temple from antiquity.
I like this picture that I took from the Temple because you can also see Hadrian’s Arch in the distance on the right, and the Acropolis in the far distance on the hill to the left.
From what I have seen of Athens, these three sights, plus the Roman Agora, the National Archeological museum, and the Acropolis museum, constitute the must-sees in Athens. For first-time visitors, a visit of three days should be sufficient. Athens is huge smoggy city with bad traffic, and many beauties await you in other parts of Greece.
We picked up our bags at the IC and got on the subway to catch our ferry in Pireaus, one of the busiest ports in Europe.
Next post–Part 3–Chios