Tuesday, July 9, 2013

WE DID SOMETHING I NEVER THOUGHT WE'D DO.  I'd always scoffed at such a thing, as I overheard the cheesy jokes blasting through shoddy speakers and coughed through their noxious clouds of exhaust. But somehow, with only a couple of days in Athens, we found ourselves on the upper-deck of a big red bus making impossibly tight turns through the narrow streets. 

Twenty euros each bought us 48 hours on the City Sightseeing bus tour of Athens, as well as its seaside suburb of Piraeus. At first it was our ticket off the Acropolis (a long, hot walk looking mighty unattractive after scaling the site's heights) but soon the true charms of this bus became obvious.

It's the "hop-on, hop-off" aspect that got us - After doing the full tour (and legitimately enjoying our Athens primer, a casual narration with great tidbits kept us interested) we started using it as a mode of transport. Just our luck, there was a stop outside our hotel, so we saved a bundle on cabs (or walking in the heat) and used it simply to get around. We spent most of our days in-and-around Plaka (the neighbourhood where the major sites, restaurants, and squares are) and the tour hits many stops there. We also paid a few dollars more for the bus tour's "Blue Line" which took a spin out of the Athens-hustle to Piraeus, where we worked in a beach day. We definitely got our money's worth and see the city from a breezy, mobile 2nd-storey is pretty solid.

Athens is a magical place. Standing on the grounds of the Acropolis (constructed, as my friend Paul says, before they started counting) was kind of jarring and out-of-body. Ancient history is something people refer to when complaining about ex-boyfriends or credit card debt, but this was actual. Europe is soaked in it, of course, so we've only just begun. But running your hand along something built in 400BC is a bit discombobulating when you come from a city not yet 200 years old.

And Athens shows its age. A remarkably low-rise city, most buildings are crumbly-at-best, some blocks a complete shambles. If you get even six or seven storeys high you can see for miles across a plain of bleached-out buildings, impossibly dense, until they start to inch up the side of a hill. A camera hardly does the sight justice, your eyes squinting at the vastness. Metropolitan Athens is 34-times the size of Manhattan.

But perhaps most importantly, Greece marked our triumphant return to eating. After three months in Asia, I was ready for cheese and meat and produce I recognized. Here I'd start down a dangerous path of too-much-bread and something sweet after every meal; perfectly-palatable house wines for almost-free meant a half-litre with lunch, and perhaps twice that with dinner. Writing this from Paris, after only 12 hours here, things are not looking less-caloric. A wedge of mimolette was a negligible 3€, holyshitohmygod. You might not recognize us when we get home.

Soon, a dedicated post about our week in Mykonos. We very-nearly bought a place and stayed there forever.


1) Athens is fairly derelict. It's easy to find yourself in a rather bad neighbourhood, rather quickly. Somehow we stumbled on some junkies literally shooting heroin. But it was daylight and they didn't seem bothered. We just kept on and were just as suddenly back in a decent area

2) Cabs are affordable and readily available. All metered, no funny business.

3) We rarely take mass transit from airports, since we're schlepping so much stuff, but the ones in Greece are pretty pricey. So in Athens we bit the bullet and got on the metro. A line runs from the airport into the city with relative frequency. We had to transfer once, which was really easy, and got off just a block from our hotel. Overall, worth the trouble to save on that cab fare. 

4) It's well-worth visiting the Acropolis and marching around its grounds. Be prepared, though, it's much like other major sites in the world: Chronically under construction/restoration and chock-full of people. I had slightly less guilt than I did at Angkor Wat, but still felt a bit assholish for traipsing around this ancient place. I kind of wish the place could just sit nicely and not be disrupted. 

5) Athens has more graffiti than I've ever seen in my life, which sadly includes the abovementioned historic sites.

6) Like in the other places we've visited, people seem to stay awake very, very late. Even just hanging out at a coffee shop at two in the morning seems quite common.

LOCATION: Paris, France
DATE AND TIME: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 11:00AM Central European Time/Tuesday, July 9, 2013 5:00AM EST


Location: Athens, Greece
Accommodation: Apollo Hotel 
Keeping things budget-conscious, our hotel in Athens was fairly no-frills. The Apollo Hotel is in a fine neighbourhood, but  without a lot of excitement close-by. You need to walk a few minutes to be near good restaurants and sites. (And the Acropolis and the Plaka neighbourhood are just the other side of a fairly bad one, so walking through it is necessary. It's fine, but might be creepy after dark. Lots of homeless people and junkies.) Wifi was pretty useless. But this hotel served its purpose for our three-night stay.

After three months in Asia and a couple weeks in the Middle East, we were ready for fresh produce, good quality meat, and feta. fucking. cheese. Yum. In our 10-day Greek visit, we literally ate 19 Greek salads. Each had its own spin and they varied from "great" to "the best thing I've ever eaten". It's hard to screw up a Greek salad. A few specific recommendations for Athens: 

> Classic, no-nonsense souvlaki, salad, and saganaki at Thanasis near the old flea market. Cheap eats in the middle of a zany tourist-heavy area, but great service and terrific food.

> Krinos Bakery is the place to get loukoumades in Athens. 

> We had one of the best meals in the past many months at Melilotos in Plaka. Classic Greek food, but elevated, their salads were out of this world. One with figs, cured meat and saganaki was sensational. Really affordable, in an amazing area. A must. Great cheap half-litres of house wine. 

> To Kafeneio was another great outdoor spot in the Plaka neighbourhood. Other restaurants nearby mean the area is lively and energetic. We had their famous meatballs and yet another Greek salad. Charm-central.



  1. I am so curious what you are going to think of Berlin.
    Love every single one of your posts and want to travel, travel, travel.
    Also: Incredible jealous of you. But everyone is I guess.

  2. Your accounts of Greece were my favourite so far - the pictures, the vibe...also maybe I'm obsessed with feta cheese and loved living vicariously?