05.12.2011 - 05.20.2011 76 °F
I spent a wonderful 8 days in Athens for work. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited to come back after having spent a day here last year while on my Mediterranean cruise. However, it’s much different hanging out over a series of days versus being caught up in the cruise crowd for a day being shuttled from site to site. The best part of the trip was that my favorite travel companion joined me…my Mommy! She actually did tours to other cities while I slaved away in the office. Hopefully, she will have her blog post to me soon (hint, hint).
I stayed at The Athens Gate hotel which is located in central Athens with a fabulous view of the Temple of Zeus & the Acropolis. The area around the hotel is so neat.
If you ever visit Athens, I highly recommend this hotel. Do the pre-booking (which includes breakfast) for a great rate. What is better than eating breakfast while looking at the Acropolis from their rooftop restaurant?
There is some sort of "Happy Trolley" that will drive you around the historic section as well. It's usually pretty packed and runs late.
Greek food…I’ll be honest and say that to me, it was “okay”. I prefer something with a bit more flavor. Not to say that the food was bad, but it wasn’t like Italy. It is serviceable…meaning that it will fill you up. It was hit or miss depending on where you ate. Most of the time, I felt it was a little bland. But I will say that the Greek salad was pretty good and the moussaka (which my Mom loves), gyros & souvlaki were good depending on the restaurant. They give you A LOT of food and you will get the stink-eye if you don’t clean your plate. It’s like they take it personal if you don’t eat everything on your plate. Clearly, the concept of portion control is lost here and they could care less if you are on Weight Watchers. I guess fat is the new skinny.
Moussaka – sautéed eggplant & tomatoes with minced meat (like hamburger) topped with white sauce & cheese) then baked. The version I like best had potatoes.
Souvlaki – think kabobs. It’s basically grilled meat & veggies on a skewer. I had chicken & pork. They will sometimes serve it with a pita and rice depending on the restaurant.
One day, I just wanted something familiar so I ordered a hamburger and fries. This is what I got…
I didn’t expect 5 breakfast buddies. LOL. But, it was actually pretty tasty. I was only able to eat 1 ½ patties but it’s nice that you know you aren’t going to starve when you leave.
While the food was okay, the experience is phenomenal. We ate outside at various cafés that had outstanding views of the Acropolis every night. That more than made up for the food. I never got tired of staring at the Acropolis. It’s just magnificent!
Choosing a restaurant to eat at is an experience in and of itself. There are waiters/hype men that stand in front of EACH restaurant and try to persuade you to come in and eat. It reminds you of when you are touring and vendors worry you to death trying to sell you their souvenirs. One night, a colleague & I decided to try out a rooftop restaurant in this cool hilltop section of The Plaka. There were at least 9 restaurants in this little section. We choose one, go thru the kitchen to get to the back stairs and climb up to the roof. The view was awesome.
So, we look at the menu, decide on our selections and our waiter comes over. He has a “Godfather” vibe to him. We order and he proceeds to tell us what he is going to serve us instead. Um, why do they give menus if it’s “waiter’s choice”? So, for appetizers, he brings us out some sort of cheese spread (nope) and fried cheese (nope again). That’s right, fried cheese. Sigh. Now, I just wanted salad and mousaka. That’s all. The Greek Godfather gets irritated that we aren’t wolfing down the fried cheese & cheese spread. He’s all, “you no like?” Well, I ain’t trying to have a horse head in my bed in the morning so I say, “oh, it’s delicious. I’m just trying to save room for my moussaka.” He gives me the stink-eye and goes to say something to the bus boy. I’m pretty sure he tells him to go find Barbaro. Anyway, after finally begging the busboy to take the appetizers away, we finally get our main meals. Sigh. It was okay. I had high hopes. The Greek Godfather comes by and asks why I haven’t finished my meal (I half expected to hear him tell me about the starving kids in Africa). I tried as best as I could to eat the entire meal. My colleague is laughing and telling me that I’m getting punked. Whatever. I’m scared. By this time, the Greek Godfather is treating me like I came to his daughter’s wedding with no gift and asking for a favor. I’m like, please don’t have me sleeping with the fishes over this mousaka. He was done with us at this point. Clearly we didn’t worship at the fountain of the Greek God of Food. The night wasn’t lost though because the view was spectacular. We ended up going to Café Plaka for dessert and coffee afterwards.
If you are scared of dogs, then you don’t need to visit Greece. Seriously. They are everywhere. I’m a dog lover (as y’all know about my booters, Mr. Riley). Greece is overrun by dogs & cats. You know that movie, "All Dogs Go to Heaven”? Well, I think they really go to Greece because those dogs live the life! Most of the dogs are strays. Now, strays in the US have an emaciated & wolfish look to them because they try to survive on the streets trying to find food. Not the strays in Greece. Oh no, those jokers are well fed to the point where they may want to start counting points. The government takes care of them by providing food & water in designated areas around each city. Some dogs have collars and some don’t. The ones that have collars are the ones that have been seen by a vet and have had their shots.
My first night in Athens, my colleague & I were walking around trying to find a particular restaurant. We see some dogs (lab mixes mostly). At first, 2 of them decide to escort us on our walk which is cool because I’m missing Riley so I’m happy to have dogs to coo over. Then, we come up on a pack of dogs in another section. Clearly, this is their “set” and they let the 2 dogs with me know that. It’s all growling and barking. I’m like, “the hell?” I can’t get caught up in dog gang wars. So, we try to slowly slide out of the conflict and as we turn the corner, we hear some loud barking coming from the sky. Why is there a dog on the roof barking at us like, “get the hell on.”? Seriously?
Over the 8 days, I was able to note that the dogs pretty much kept to their own areas of the city. They are also extremely smart. One dog was walking next to me on a busy street (Syngou). Then, I guess he decides he needs to cross the street because he walks to the stoplight where the crosswalk is. At this point, I stop because I need to know if this dog is going to rush out in front of traffic. Um, why does he wait for the crosswalk sign to turn green, looks both ways, then crosses?
I was outdone. That wasn’t the only dog that did it either. I guess they need to be well-trained in order to survive in a big city but still, it was amazing. So, to recap…the dogs & cats have food and water, can come and go as they please and don’t have to listen to an owner. Riley would give me the deuces in a hot second if he were to ever hear about this place.
The Fabulous Sites
Athens has a lot of ruins…which I love. I love walking on ground that someone has walked on thousands of years ago!
We checked out the New Acropolis Museum which contains relics (approximately 4K statues & artifacts) from the buildings on the Acropolis (i.e. Parthenon & Temple of Athena Nike). It gives you a pretty substantial history of how the Acropolis came to be, what it was like during its heyday, and why it was almost destroyed. Now, it doesn’t have “a lot” of stuff like you expect in a museum. But, I found it interesting.
Next stop was Hadrian’s Arch which was built by the Roman emperor, Hadrian. It’s the symbolic entrance to Athens. Basically, it was his way of letting the Athenians know who they were beholden to. The inscription facing the Acropolis side reads “THIS IS ATHENS, THE ANCIENT CITY OF THESEUS.” On the other side, it states “THIS IS THE CITY OF HADRIAN, NOT OF THESEUS”. That joker was gangsta.
He also built Hadrian’s Library.
You know, I just realized he is the Tyler Perry of ancient Greece. I mean, his name is on everything. I’m pretty sure that if I did the research, I’d find that all the plays put on during that time were most likely titled, “Hadrian presents Hadrian’s Meet the Aristotles” with Athena being Madea.
Hadrian’s Arch is right in front of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Hadrian finished the construction that began in the 6th century B.C. and continued on and off for 700 years. Kind of like road projects Anyway, the Olympieion (aka Kolonnes or Columns) were 360x143 feet and considered one of the largest temples in the ancient world. There were once statues of Zeus and Hadrian but those are gone now.
Then, we walked to Syntagma Square which is the focal point of Athens political & civic life. This is where you find major banks, travel agencies, fine hotels and where the protesters congregate almost every weekday over some issue. It’s right across the street from the Parliament building.
Syntagma Square & surrounding area
As you are walking, you come up on some random excavation & relics --
Then there is the famous Central Market. Y'all ain't ready for this. You need a strong stomach. Basically, they sell everything from the rooter to the tooter in here. I like the fact that they try to be funny with their displays even though this almost made me become a vegetarian.
The 3 Little Pigs
Liner & instestines, etc from cows
I don't think smoking killed this one
Next stop is Ancient Agora. This was the commercial and civic center in historic Athens. It’s a jumble of ancient building relics as these buildings were used for a wide range of political, educational, philosophical, theatrical and athletic purposes. It’s a great place to wander though. Once you enter, you will be on the main road entitled “Panathenaic Way"
I read that Agora was usually filled with merchants, legislators and philosophers (in fact, Socrates & Plato were regulars). But, it’s pointed out that very few women hung out here because they did not regularly go into public places. In 399 B.C., Socrates, accused of “introducing strange gods and corrupting youth” was sentenced to death. He drank his up of hemlock in a prison at the southeast corner of the Agora (I can’t even tell you where that is) where excavators later found small clay cups, just the right size for his fatal drink. It’s a pretty neat place and actually very peaceful (even if folks were executed here).
We then head up to Monastiraki (which is a neighborhood that fringes the Agora and Roman Forum). Basically has a log of flea markets and restaurants. In Monastiraki Square where there are some guys in Celtics jerseys doing some sort of hip hop/breakdance production. It’s like “Electric Bougaloo – Athens”. I'll upload the video once the site it back up.
The taxis are kind of expensive but I do appreciate a flat fee of 35 euro from the airport to central Athens. I primarily used the Metro. Which is cheap and clean. Now, they don’t have turnstiles but you are supposed to validate your ticket at the ticket machine. In Italy, they have people on each train that come by and verify that your ticket is validated or you get fined (you may remember the wonderful story of my ride from Genoa to Florence with the crazy guy that didn’t validate and had to pay 50 euro…classic). Anyway, they don’t have that here. It’s the honor system. The Metro is usually pretty crowded but folks are nice, there is no drama and the trains run pretty regularly.
Overall, I really did love Athens. I would definitely go back again as there is so much to see and not enough time to see it. The people are friendly and my local contact even brought my colleague & I to his house (which is fab) and fed us fresh strawberries & gelato while we sat in his backyard under the pergola looking at the Aegean Sea.
The shopping is great and the men are fine (Seriously? Why was that not in the guidebook?) With each trip, I feel like I’m becoming more well-rounded and able to view the culture from a more global point of view, instead of a U.S.-centric view. Hopefully, I will be able to run the Athens marathon one day as I’d love to run the original marathon route (as long as there aren’t many hills, then I’d be satisfied with just driving it). I guarantee that if you make the trip to Athens, you won’t be disappointed. May is the perfect time to go as the weather is mild, it's right before high season & it isn't crowded. Check it out!