Beautiful islands with crystal-clear blue water and cute little white houses under the beaming sun probably come first to mind when one thinks of Greece. Although that was out of question in winter, I figured Athens, famous for its historical landmarks, would be a good choice for a winter city break. I made the flight and accommodation arrangements and gave it as a gift trip to my boyfriend (and myself) for Christmas.
We traveled to Athens on the third week of January. I had been following the weather in Athens since a few weeks before travel, but unfortunately on the weekend we were there, the temperature was well around 0 degrees at nights and mornings, rising to measly 5-6 degrees during the day. It wasn’t what we had hoped for, but I had learned from my previous travels to check up on weather and dress accordingly. I wasn’t in shortage of warm clothes to tackle the Athenian winter.
We flew from Modlin airport, about 1 hour away from Warsaw center and landed in Athens at around 21:30. One of the first things I noticed at the airport after landing were the big ‘Welcome to Greece’ boards accompanied with breath-taking island pictures. I love the sea and sun and beaches (who doesn’t?), so I was already a bit sad that I was so close to those majestic places yet was there at a wrong time and wouldn’t be able to go.
We took the metro to the apartment we had booked via airbnb, and the journey took about 45 minutes or so. There were no places to sit, so we made the long journey standing. I am a very observant person and quickly notice things that perhaps most people ignore: and one of such things I noticed at the metro was the Greek fashion. Most women wore clothes that were a bit Bohemian type and old-school, different from Western Europe.
After meeting the host, a friendly lady, we proceeded to the apartment, in a lively neighborhood. It was a Friday night so many people were out. My boyfriend was drooling over the sight of motorbikes and other two-wheelers that were possible to use in this country around the year, unlike in Poland. After getting to the apartment, we decided to go out for some food. We were exhausted and didn’t want to go somewhere far. We just needed to fill our hungry stomachs. Luckily, we found a small restaurant just around the corner and ordered takeaway souvlakis with chicken. It was so delicious! And at only 2.5 euros, filled my stomach completely.
The next day, we purchased a 24 hour public transportation card, for only 4 euros! If I was still living in Finland, I’d be ecstatic over the prices and probably spend a lot, like I did in Portugal once. Our first stop was the iconic Acropolis, which was only 3 metro stops away from where we were staying. Initially, we had planned to walk, but we realized we had only a weekend in Athens, and didn’t want to be so tired from all the walking. There was frail sunshine that morning – and it was quite windy in Acropolis area. We purchased the entrance ticket and went ahead. Although it was winter, there were considerable number of tourists. I can only imagine how crowded it must be in summer.
Acropolis, a hilltop area overlooking Athens, which contains one of the most important historical buildings from 5th century, was beautiful. The Parthenon, Propylaea, Erechtheoin are some of the most important monuments in the areas. They were all magnificent. Hard to imagine by looking at them that they are so old. I especially enjoyed the view of Athens from the hilltop. I loved the view of (from binoculars), little orange trees, other surrounding hills, the terraces with tables and chairs on the houses, the other monuments such as Temple of Olympian Zeus, stadiums, the ferry port far away etc from the hill.
After looking around for sometime and enjoying the views, we descended. We walked without directions, as we just wanted to explore. Immediately below the hill, we arrived near the entrance of The Ancient Agora. The ticket we bought at Acropolis was actually a combo ticket that worked for the nearby major landmarks as well. That gate for some reason was not open, and as we could see the monuments from outside the gate, so we didn’t bother going in and strolled further. Little orthodox churches tucked in the most unexpected places, orange trees basking on the winter sun, narrow streets. We were in front of the Roman Agora after some walking. We went in and saw some structures. I was more enjoying the sights of the nearby Greek houses and cafes with tables sitting outside on the sun, than the structures at the site.
We arrived at a lively square after moving on from the Roman Agora. There were fruit vendors, lots of people, other kinds of vendors, cafes and restaurants. A beautiful sight of Acropolis could be seen from the square. An African guy almost tried to scam us by talking us into tying the colorful strings on our wrists to make us pay later. I had read about it earlier, and we didn’t take the mindless “How are you? Where are you from?” conversation with him further. Apparently, many people, especially tourists I assume, do not know about the scam and fall into their trick and pay money for those strings that were tied to their wrists without their permission, to get rid of the persistent scammers.
The entrance to Athens flea market just started from the left side of the square. We walked through the market which was quite big, continued further, came to a shady neighborhood where they were selling porn DVDs and other very old things. We returned to the same square. I wanted to go to the major ferry station in Athens, Piraeus, so we took a metro from the square. It was nothing as I had expected it to be – very crowded, dirty, some creepy people lurking around. I did however long for the beautiful islands that I have read and heard and dreamed about so much about when I saw those numerous tour companies, advertising the ferry routes. Thassos, Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Zakynthos, Rhodos. Only if it was summer and I had more time. We wanted to go to a beach nearby and enjoy some beers but ended up walking a long time alongside the sea. The port never ended . We took a random bus, but it turned back to the port area after a while. We gave up on finding the beach and decided to explore further after getting down at a random bus stop.
Stray cats, some sketchy neighborhoods, litter, homeless people, orange trees. I wanted to go back to the center. We took metro and got off at Syntagma square. The Greek parliament house was far from spectacular. I did however notice sidewalks made of marble in the area though. The streets below Plaka neighborhood directly below Acropolis hill were also made of marble. Greeks seem to love their marble. Marble is expensive in Nepal.
Plaka neighborhood was so far by favorite area in Athens. Old historical neighborhood with neoclassical architecture and streets paved with marble at places. Lots of cafes, restaurants overlooking beautiful Acropolis, beautiful traditional houses. We enjoyed delicious ice-cream and souvlaki there and wandered around. A little walk further, we came across the marvelous Temple of Olympian Zeus and saw the monuments from outside, as it was already closed. Across the street was where the National Garden started. We did a slow walk around the serene garden. Later in the evening, we went to see the exteriors of Academy of Fine Arts (impressive) and surrounding area.
So, two days in Athens, was a lot of walking, exploring, getting amazed at the new places and of course marveling at the historical monuments. I didn’t find the city captivating, as I did Prague, for example, but I never regret visiting new places, as they always carry unique memories.