A Travellerspoint blog

Last Day in Mainland Greece

Mycenae to Athens to Piraeus

sunny 82 °F

I woke up this morning to the news that my mom was able to get us a flight out of Amsterdam! Paying cancellation fees plus the difference in price of a flight from Paris or any of the other places we were looking would have cost us upwards of a grand, so we instead had her shoot for simply cancelling the first leg of our flight from Cairo to Amsterdam, allowing us to depart right from Amsterdam. They still tried to charge fees despite the fact that we were now only flying 1 of the 2 legs of our trip, but she was of course able to get them to waive those. Thanks mom! Now we at least know the final stop on our trip. Kristine is excited to see the Anne Frank Museum and I’m sure we’ll find some other interesting things to see. Flying to Paris before Amsterdam is going to be too expensive, so we may stop at another Greek Island or else stop in Prague or Istanbul, since they’ll take us in the right general direction toward Amsterdam.

After breakfast, we packed up at hit the road for Athens. We stopped in Mycenae, just off the main road on the way to Athens. Mycenians ruled what is now Greece before the era of city-states (1th-12th centuries B.C.). We first went to the Treasury of Atreus, which is also believed to be the tomb of King Agamemnon of Trojan War fame.
The treasury had an impressive domed roof that provided some crazy echoes. There was also a passageway we weren’t allowed to go down, but we could clearly hear bats somewhere down in the darkness.

Next was the museum, where we got to see more clay pots (we’re getting kind of sick of them…sorry Greeks!) We then climbed to the ruins of the Mycenaean Acropolis, which had some great views, but to be honest, was a bit ho-hum after being at Fort Palamidi yesterday.
The main, monumental entrance to the city, and the trademark picture of Mycenae is the Lion’s Gate:
The walls of the city were said to have been built by the mythical Cycloses, hence the “Cyclopean Walls,” and are 900m long and an incredible 5.5-7.5m thick, with a height up to 12m.

All in all, we collectively decided that we had seen enough old rocks for a while and our trip to Santorini could not have come at a better time. Finally, after seeing many Citroens on the roads of Greece, we finally found one like ours!

I had to return Scrappy, our rental car, with a full tank of gas. However, with the great gas mileage and the fact that the gas meter only shows a range from 0 to 6 bars, you can drive for quite a while before the meter drops to 5 bars. I tried to time the gas just right, and it would have worked, except that when we hit Athens, we were in traffic for at least a half hour. It was a nightmare, with hundreds of motorbikes weaving in and out of cars and multiple cars stuck in intersections long after the light had turned red.

Unfortunately, I had to stop to put a few liters in so that the car registered at full. We drove over 1000km over the past few days, essentially on one tank of gas (since I filled it up from half-full twice). Pretty impressive. Kristine was so impressed with the gas mileage that she claims to want a SmartCar. After returning our car, there happened to be a Blue Star Ferries ticket office next door, so we stopped in to book our tickets. We had about an hour before the ferry left, but the ticket agent recommended we get a taxi to get there in time, as public transportation would be cutting it too close. She made it seem like we barely had time to make it in a taxi, but 20 euros and less than 10 minutes later, we were on the ferry with about 45 minutes to spare. The “ferry” is enormous and more like a cruise. Many people brought their vehicles on board and there are several different restaurants. It feels a bit like we’re wasting our day, but it’s a nice chance to relax, play some cards and catch up on my blogging.

Posted by atbrady 08:54 Archived in Greece Tagged greece athens santorini ferry piraeus mycenae agamemnon Comments (0)

A Day in Nafplion and Side Trip to Epidaurus?

More adventures in Greece!

sunny 85 °F

Good Morning from Nafplion, Greece!
We’re so fortunate to have such an incredible balcony view considering that we paid about $40/night for our room. Today, we planned to go to Nafplion itself to see the sights. It’s about 15 minutes from our hotel in nearby Tolo. The first thing that we saw upon arrival was that nobody here seems to have any parking etiquette. On almost every street, cars were double parked, blocking other cars in.
After finding a parking spot where we weren’t blocking anyone in, we walked the streets of Nafplion and I was immediately reminded of Venice. Essentially, Nafplion is Venice without the canals. Every street could be a postcard and every building is just weathered enough to give it character. It was funny because I later learned that Nafplion was once a shipping port controlled by the Venetians, who had constructed many of the buildings.
Here is your typical restaurant in Nafplion. It was the most charming restaurant you could imagine, and yet right next door was another beautiful restaurant that was just as worthy of a postcard.
There was even artisan shops such as this one where shoes and sandals were being made by hand.

After losing ourselves in the beauty of this small town, we eventually made our way to the Archeological Museum, which was at the top of Kristine’s list of things to do. Arthur estimated an hour there, and at 2 euros each, it seemed like a steal. How wrong we were. The museum consisted of 2 small rooms, and the attraction that Arthur mentioned was 30,000 year old artifacts, the extent of which can be seen here:
Despite Arthur’s hour estimation there, we struggled to spend 10 minutes at the museum just to try get our money’s worth. Oh well.

After the museum, we headed for Acronapflia, one of three forts that historically guarded the city. It was a bit of a hike, but afforded us some incredible views of the city.
Kristine was tired at the top, but little did she know what was in store later.
While at the top, we stopped to have the lunch we had packed. Kristine had a turkey and feta sandwich and I had a peach and yogurt.

Next up was the top attraction on my list, Fort Palamidi.
According to Arthur, it had 999 steps and provided incredible views of the city. We doubted that there just happened to be 999 steps and joked about counting them, but then we started counting and took a picture on every hundredth step. Notice how Kristine looks less and less enthused as we climb higher.
Here you can see Kristine on the 100th step:
By 300, the smile was more forced:
Near the top, there were no smiles:
The actual count was 1036, but there were multiple high peaks at the top of the fort, so its possible that one of them was 999 total steps.
At around 945 steps, we had to pay to get in to the fort which was funny. I guess by the time you have done all that work, you’re not going to cheap out of paying, but at the same time, I would have been pretty angry if we hadn’t thought to bring cash. I don’t envy the guy that has to walk to the top of the fort for work every day. One saving grace of just about everywhere we have been is that tickets are half price for non-EU students who show their student IDs (its free for students in the EU). When we handed the worker our student IDs, he went on a 10 minute rant about how student IDs from the US don’t have expiration dates so you can’t tell if they are still students. We tried to hold back laughter as we were one of what I’m sure is many recent grads from the states using their old student IDs. During his rant, he said that in Greece, the student IDs have expiration dates, but driver’s licenses don’t, which to him makes sense because once you become a driver, you are always a driver. It’s the opposite in America, with expiration dates on licenses but not student IDs, so I guess its just funny what you’re used to.

It was absolutely remarkable to admire how this enormous fort must have been constructed. I can’t imagine how huge stones were carried up all 999 stairs hundreds of thousands of times to build such an immense structure. The views from the top were more than worth the walk.
After wandering around the 3 different towers at the top of the Palamidi, it was time to take 1000+ steps back down.

When we reached the bottom, we had a few hours to kill and had seen most of what we wanted to see, so we decided to take a jaunt to Epidaurus, which Arthur recommended and was just 15 minutes away. The theatre at Epidaurus is one of the best-preserved theatres in Greece, and its 55 rows still hold crowds for performances today. As with most of Greece, street signs to sites of historical significance are pretty well marked, so we found our way there without too much trouble. Unfortunately, when we got there, the sign said that it was closed and a “work in progress,” but we saw no evidence of work being done.
In addition to the theatre, there was supposed to be a sanctuary worth seeing, so we wandered around what ended up being a farmers’ field on a hill to no avail. On our way to Epidaurus, we had driven through fields of unfamiliar trees. I finally guessed that they were olive trees, and on our walk, we were able to see them up close and confirm that they were in fact olive trees:
We also saw a few bushes bearing what looked like rhambutans:
There were also acres upon acres of orange trees and even a few pomegranate trees, which we had never seen in person!
On the way back to Nafplion, we drove through towns so small that restaurants put tables in the street!

When we got back to Nafplion, we were starved and stopped in the central square, Syntagma Square, for dinner. I was a bit confused as to why both Athens and Nafplion had Syntagma Squares until I read that syntagma means constitution. If you look at this picture of Kristine at Noufara, where we went for dinner, you’ll notice that the place is empty.
It is true that dinner hour in Greece is around 10pm, but try as we might, we have not been able to hold out that long. With a breakfast of grilled cheese, juice and tea, I have no idea how the Greeks can make it until 10pm to eat dinner. The square provided incredible views all around:
We ordered 500mL of the house wine (about 2/3 of a normal bottle for 4euros/$5!!) and were content to linger after dinner like most Greeks seem to. We have noticed that after you are served food in Greece, you’re unlikely to ever see your waiter again until you somehow manage to track him down to get the check. However, most waiters carry fanny packs and can give you back your change on the spot. Usually we seem to be in a rush to go somewhere else, but tonight we took advantage of the great opportunity for looking out onto the square and people watching. There was one peddler with at least three dozen balloons that kept trying to casually walk in front of children playing in the square, and another who was selling helicopter-type toys that light up and shoot in the air. A little girl of about 10 in a fancy dress and a lot of makeup tried to sell us flowers. Across the way an old Greek woman on the second floor of a building lowered a basket down on a rope to the shop down below, then pulled it back up after the shopkeeper had put something inside. Here’s Syntagma Square after we finally decided to leave the restaurant.
After dinner, we walked down the “promenade,” passing the restaurants and shops on the water. We even found one of the funny looking short and fat palm trees that they have here bearing an interesting looking fruit

When we had done sufficient walking and window-shopping, we went back home to plan our time in Santorini. Tomorrow we’ll catch a 3pm ferry from Piraeus (port city minutes from Athens) that gets to Santorini at 10pm. To make the most of the day, we’re going to try to visit the ruins at either Mycenae or Corinth on the way to Athens, which is a two-hour drive from Nafplion. To be safe, we're shooting for a 1pm arrival at Avis to give us time to return the car, hop on a bus for Piraeus and find our Blue Star Ferry. As I read up on Santorini, I got extremely excited when Arthur mentioned the prospect of renting a motor scooter!!! We’re still not sure how long we’ll stay in Santorini, let alone what we’ll be doing for our second week or how we’re getting home. It’s all part of the adventure!

For those of you who are astute, you may have recognized that the theatre at Epidarus did not have 55 rows as described by Arthur. It was not until we we’re home tonight that we looked back in the book at the picture of the theatre and realized that we had been in the wrong place! Pictures we had taken revealed that we were at the Ancient Theatre at Demos of Ancient Epidarus. We weren’t able to find any evidence of what exactly it was that we saw, but it wasn’t the famed theatre we thought it was. Oops!

Posted by atbrady 08:45 Archived in Greece Tagged greece square syntagma promenade nafplion acronafplia palamidi epidaurus Comments (1)

Olympia, Andritsena and Tolo

Driving around the Greek countryside in the Peloponnese

sunny 82 °F

This morning we woke up at Hotel Hercules, packed our things back into the car, and drove back to the main street in search of breakfast. We didn’t have to do as much searching this morning and found Café Zeus.
We both ordered a “filled” omelet with tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms that was actually pretty good. The owner of Café Zeus sounded Australian, so when I went to pay the bill, I asked what had brought her to Olympia. She did end up being from Australia and apparently her mom had left her Café Zeus. She wasn’t especially talkative, so I’m not sure what brought her mom here or how long she has been here, but it was pretty neat nonetheless.

After breakfast, we weren’t exactly sure where to go but followed the dozens of tour buses to the Olympic Archeological Museum. Here we learned about the Statue of Zeus that was once at Olympia.
It was made of ivory and gold and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, it no longer exists (the pyramids are the only ancient wonders that are still around). The statue of Zeus was brought to Istanbul and eventually destroyed. It was especially sad to hear that the Olympians had taken down many of their own buildings when they were under attack from the turks in order to use the stone to fortify the walls around the Temple of Zeus to try to save their most prized possession, yet their efforts were in vain.

Some of the statues from the pediments (the long thin triangles that make up the front of the roof of many Ancient Greek buildings) of the temple have been saved and are a small glimpse at how unbelievable the temple and statue must have been in its day. At the museum, Kristine and I continued to develop our talents of getting illegal pictures of each other in front of museum artifacts since people are for some reason not allowed in photos. Here’s me in front of the remains of one of the pediments, casually turning around as Kristine takes the picture.

The statue of Zeus was made by the renowned sculptor Phiedias, and the museum also contained some of the artifacts from his workshop in Olympia, where he made the statue. Here are some of the actual molds he used to cast certain parts of the statue.

After the museum, we headed for the ruins. We got to see the remains of the gymnasium where athletes used to train prior to the Olympic Games, which was pretty neat.
We also made our way to the Ancient Olympic Stadium, where the games were held. There weren’t any built-in seats, so it wasn’t as much to behold as the Panathenaic Stadium, but it was hard not to be in awe of its historical significance. Here’s Kristine about to walk through what was once the tunnel leading in to the stadium.
When we walked in to the stadium, there was 50-100 people lined up at the other end. They looked to be some kind of tour group which I later guessed was from Germany and we watched them in an all out race down the length of the stadium. After they were done, I was compelled to do a lap myself.

Over the hill of the stadium, Kristine and I spotted some current excavations going on, which was pretty cool as well.

We continued on to see the ruins of the Phillippeion, which was completed by Alexander the Great.

To finish up the ruins at Olympia, we got to see the remains of the Temple of Zeus that we had learned so much about at the museum. It was destroyed by earthquakes thousands of years ago, but they restored one of its pillars in preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Just seeing the immense size of that one pillar made my imagination run wild trying to recreate how incredible the temple must have been in its day.

After the ruins, the last thing to see in Olympia was the Museum of the Olympic Games in Antiquity. As a huge fan of the Olympics, I loved this museum and enjoyed learning more about the ancient games. They ran every four years continuously from 776 B.C. until 393 A.D., a span of 1169 years. Despite the continuous warfare between city-states in Greece, the Olympics were never interrupted thanks to the “Sacred Truce” which suspended conflict before, during and after the games. Clearly, the Greeks took the truce, and the games, quite seriously.

Ancient Olympic athletes had to travel to Elis one month before the games so that the hellanodikai (judges) could ensure that they met the qualifications for participation, namely that they were Greeks and that they were born of free parents. For that final month before the Olympic games, the athletes would train in the gymnasium like Kristine had, proving they practiced the principle of fair play.
The hellanodikai associated with the athletes on a daily basis to ensure not only that they were in the proper physical condition to compete and to assess their talents, but also to assess their ethics and character. All of the athletes had to take an oath prior to the games.

On the way out of Olympia, we stopped at a gift shop and I bought Kristine a fun little Greek dress. Kristine had been enthralled by the Statue of Zeus, so we bought a mini figurine to add to our collection. I also bought a postcard that showed the lighting of the Olympic torch that happens in Olympia every four years. I had somehow forgotten about this tradition that links the modern Olympics to their ancient predecessors and wished that they had had some more explanation about it in the ruins or the museum.

As recommended by Arthur, we stopped in Andritsena for lunch since it was on the way to our next stop in Nafplion. It was another cute town built into the side of the mountain with similarly breathtaking views.

I’m so glad that we had the foresight to rent a car on this trip. Had we decided to take a train or go on a tour bus, we would have missed the opportunity to make all of these little side trips to small towns, which have been one of my favorite parts about this trip. At lunch, I (finally) got the mixed grill plate that we had been expecting when ordering “Patsaga” a few nights ago in Athens. It had chicken and lamb souvlaki, sausage and some kind of homemade sausage that was amazing and looked and tasted like a meatball in the shape of a sausage link.

While we were eating, there was a cat that came up to us and sat a foot away from me. No amount of shooing would get this cat to flinch.
There have been cats and dogs everywhere we have gone in Greece. They are usually pretty content just to lie around and usually we can’t decide if they are strays or if they belong to people working at the ancient sites and restaurants that we have been visiting. It’s pretty strange.

During dinner, I watched the waitress take an empty water glass off of another table and walk down the street, only to come back with a full glass of water. I’m almost positive that she went to fill it up at this fountain. I can only assume that the pitcher of water we had was collected in the same way, though I didn’t tell Kristine about it until after dinner because I didn’t want her to get grossed out by it.

As we were leaving a great afternoon in Andritsena, we were passed by a truck with a goat tied down in the flatbed.
A few miles down the road, Kristine went nuts when we saw a herd of goats with bells and all, grazing on the side of the road. There was even a dog that looked to be herding them.
About a half hour later, we saw a guy herding sheep across the road. Talk about off the beaten path!

It’s a good thing Scrappy gets good gas mileage. When I filled up the tank yesterday on the way to Olympia, a half tank set us back 47 euros (about $65)! The prices here are around 1.80 per liter. The lowest octane rating is 95, and I’m curious to do a little more research to see why they use 95 when most cars in the US run on 87.
On our way from Antritsena to Nafplion, we saw dozens and dozens of small little shrines. We must have seen 100 over the past few days. At first I thought they were mailboxes, but many have pictures and lit candles inside, which is especially eerie since many of the little shrines we have seen have been on mountain roads miles and miles from civilization.

Since we saw so many on the winding mountain roads, I thought that they might have been in remembrance of people that had died in those places, but we have now seen them on roads just about everywhere, so I’m not so sure that’s the case. Many of them look like miniature models of the small chapels that also line the roads in even the most remote of locations. Hopefully we can figure out the mystery by the end of our trip. When we came up over the final mountain, we were rewarded with an incredible view of Nafplion and other small towns below.
We’re actually staying in Tolo, which is a small beach town outside of Nafplion at Villa Irene. Again our GPS could only take us to the city center of Tolo, so finding Villa Irene was no easy task. Luckily we didn’t have as much trouble as we did finding last night’s hotel because this time around it was still light out, plus Tolo is a pretty small town. The receptionist greeted us and took us to our room. As she was leaving, she had a change of heart and offered to show us another room a few floors up with a better view. I enthusiastically agreed much to the chagrin of Kristine, who had just put down all of her things. After climbing two more flights of stairs and opening the door to our balcony, I’m pretty sure she forgave me.

We have a little kitchenette and have been growing tired of restaurant food, so we decided to walk to one of the grocery stores we had seen in town while searching for Villa Irene. At almost 40 Euros (just shy of $50), the bill was pretty steep considering that we only got a few bags worth of fruits and veggies, eggs, a cheap bottle of wine and some tea. Nonetheless, eating breakfast at home the next two mornings will easily make that worth it, not to mention having dinner at home tonight and packing a lunch for tomorrow. After we dropped off our groceries, we wandered up and down main street and along the beach, passing stores and shops and dozens of restaurants. Apparently Tolo is a popular European vacation spot.

We started to work up an appetite and headed for home. I did my best to create a Greek-inspired dinner
We had a tomato and cucumber salad with olives and I tried to recreate the grilled feta we had a few nights ago (to moderate success). We also had some leftover meat from our lunch earlier in the day and I cooked up some homemade Greek pasta Kristine had bought.

After dinner, we sat drinking wine on our porch admiring our incredible view and how lucky we are to be able to be on this trip. We started to throw around ideas for the second half of our trip. I looked pretty extensively into Paris because I know that it’s where Kristine most wants to go. It would be really neat to use some of my limited knowledge from my trip there to show her around a bit and take her to all of the places that I wish she had been with me to see the first time around. Unfortunately, hotel availability is extremely limited, which I was surprised about considering the fact that this is off-season. Perhaps some hotels that cater to low-budget tourists close down in the off-season? The hotels that were available are very expensive considering how cheap and seedy they are. Most are upwards of $100/night despite poor locations and awful online reviews. We looked at going to Normandy, which is a day-trip from Paris that Hunter and I never ended up having time for. Another idea we tossed around was spending a few days in the Loire Valley—one of the wine regions in France—to visit chateaus and wineries. This too may be prohibitively expensive not only due to hotel prices, but also because we would probably have to rent another car to visit all of the chateaus. We looked at putting Istanbul back in the itinerary as a stop in between Santorini and Paris, however, flights home from Paris are $2,000 on Delta (the airline we were scheduled to fly home from Cairo on), so we may have to make our last stop Amsterdam (where our original flight connected through) in hopes that they won’t charge us extra. A lot is going to depend on how much magic my mom can work with the folks at Delta, so until we hear back from her, we put any additional plans on hold and went to bed. Tomorrow we’re visiting Nafplion itself, which Arthur said is the most beautiful city in Greece…can’t wait!

Posted by atbrady 13:34 Archived in Greece Tagged temple statue wonders of olympics ancient olympia zeus nafplion tolo andritsena Comments (1)

On the Road in Greece!

Athens to Delphi, Arachova and Olympia!

sunny 83 °F

It looks like today was a good day to get out of Athens. My guidebook said that most shops are closed on Sundays, but I didn't realize just how dead the streets would be. At least 90% of businesses are closed from what I can tell. One thing I did want to check out before leaving was the Athens Flea Market, which may well have been the only place that was bustling on a Sunday. A light drizzle kept most people away, but we enjoyed wandering the streets before wandering down a path in search of breakfast and finding ourselves at Adrianou street, where we had ended the previous night. We actually ended up finding the piano bar to have the best breakfast options, so we stopped there again. Kristine had been feeling sick to her stomach all morning and couldn't muster much of an appetite.
Finally some real food!

After breakfast, we hauled all of our things (luckily it's just our backpacks this time, I'm not sure how we survived carrying duffels on top of that the last time around) to Avis to pick up our car. He's a bright red Citroen C1 that we have since named Scrappy. His engine isn't much (it might as well be electric), but It'll be nice to have somewhere to keep all of our stuff as we travel around the next few days. The drive to Delphi was a little over 2 hours and took us through some cool countryside and along some windy mountain roads. Scrappy has a manual transmission, so I'm the only one that can drive. This afforded Kristine a great opportunity to sleep for a couple hours, and she took full advantage. Here's Kristine and Scrappy after we made it to Delphi.

When we parked in Delphi, I was a bit apprehensive because it didn't seem like there was much there. Along a country road halfway up a mountain, there was simply a half-dozen cars parked along the side of the road and a few poorly marked signs. I was a bit nervous as to what I had dragged Kristine here for. It didn't help that the first two things we went to see were closed. We walked a bit further down the road following the signs for the temple of Athena, not feeling too confident that it would be open either. It ended up being open and was pretty neat to look at, but it didn't exactly make our trip worthwhile...

After spending a few minutes looking at the temple and fearing that our trip to Delphi wouldn't last more than an hour, we headed to the final attraction, the Delphi Archeological Museum and Site. Luckily, we went to the museum first because by the time we got there, it was closing in just under an hour. This time, I got in trouble again not for posing like a statue, but this time for simply smiling while Kristine took a picture of me in front of some random art. Apparently there are no people allowed in museum photos. Now I totally understand when museums want camera flashes turned off to protect the art. I even sort of understand that posing like a statue as I had in Athens could be seen as disrespectful but why people can't be in pictures with the art at the museum makes absolutely no sense to me. Kristine and I made light of the situation by trying to get the other person to casually turn around while we took a picture. After the museum, we headed to the archeological site itself which definitely made the trip worthwhile. Not only were the ruins interesting, but as we hiked higher and higher up the mountain to look at them, the views were incredible.

Part of the significance of Delphi in ancient times is that it was declared to be the earth of the universe by Zeus, who according to legend, released two eagles on either end of the earth and where they met was Delphi. The "Navel" marks the spot where this is said to have been, so when Kristine stands at the navel she finally gets to be the center of the universe!

On the way up the mountain, we made friends with fellow group of Americans from Tennesee and were able to take pictures of their group and they returned the favor...
After a long hike past the Temple of Apollo, the Athenian treasury and a theatre dating to the 4th century, B.C., we finally made it all the way up to the stadium at the highest part of the ancient city.

Once we made it back down to where our car was parked, I realized that a small mountain town we had passed through just a few miles before we arrived at Delphi was actually in the Frommer's book as a great place to stop during your visit. Coming around one of the curves in the road, I had been awestruck by the sight of Arachova, but had not taken the time to stop to gawk at the way it was built into the mountain. Before we stopped for dinner, I convinced Kristine to drive past the town back to that spot before it got dark.
Not only was the town beautiful from afar, but the streets and buildings themselves looked to be straight out of a movie.

We walked down main street (probably no more than a quarter mile) looking at the menus of all of the amazing-looking restaurants and finally settled on a nice little place with an incredible view from the balcony.
The highlight of dinner was the grilled feta, which was cooked with peppers and onions and was absolutely incredible. We put it on top of everything else that we ordered! Our only complaint was that we were charged for bread even though we didn't order it, but I seem to remember this being the case during our last trip to Europe as well. Also, we have (obviously) had olives at just about every meal and ALL of the olives here have pits. You would think with all the olives that they eat that somebody would decide to go with pitted olives. Also, they serve french fries with EVERYTHING! I'm not sure if they see us American's coming from a mile away or if they just love serving french fries, but no matter what we order or how fancy the restaurant, one of us (usually me) always ends up with french fries.

After dinner, we settled in for the long drive ahead. I had read in Frommers that it was about 3 and a half hours from Delphi to Olympia, so I headed east towards the Isthmus of Corinth to get to the Peloponnese peninsula where Olympia is located. Not until Kristine fired up the GPS an hour later did we realize that while the land does not connect, there is a bridge connecting the peninsula to the mainland at Patras. Having already traveled an hour in the wrong direction, there was not much difference between continuing on our current route or doubling back to take the route we should have taken in the first place, so we continued on our way. Thankfully, Kristine stayed up with me to keep me entertained with 20-questions and a variety of other made up games to help the time pass. Nevertheless, our 3 and a half hour trip became closer to 5. When we were within two hours of Olympia, we went onto the steepest, most windy mountain road, through various tiny mountain towns and didn't see a single car or person for over an hour and a half. At one point, there was a fog so thick that I couldn't see five feet in front of the car, which also slowed us down considerably. While the GPS was a great investment at only $12/day, it has very few streets in its memory. So when we plugged in Delphi to the GPS, it simply took us to the "city center." Delphi was small enough that this wasn't a problem. Our original ETA for Olympia should have been around 10pm, but when we instead pulled in closer to 12:30am and found Olympia to be quite a bit larger, so "city center" wasn't going to cut it. Kristine had written down the address of our hotel, but the GPS didn't recognize the street name. We drove down the main strip and saw signs pointing to probably two dozen hotels, none of which were ours. When we got to the end of the strip, I asked Kristine whether we should turn right or left. She guessed right, and a few blocks later we happend upon Hotel Hercules. We easily could have spent an hour or more driving around looking for the hotel but somehow managed to find it in just a few minutes. We weren't quite out of the woods yet, however, because the entire town was dead and our hotel was no exception. I parked outside and walked towards the dark lobby fully expecting to be sleeping in the car that night. But to my surprise, the lobby was open and there was a key on the front desk with a note that said my name and our room number. Disaster averted! In our commotion to bring our things inside, the owner (who must live on the premises) came down to show us to our room. Exhausted, we promptly dropped our things on the floor and hit the sack. They don't call it adventure for nothing!

Posted by atbrady 17:07 Archived in Greece Tagged greece ruins hotel athens ancient olympia delphi navel delfi arachova hercules Comments (1)

Second Day in Athens

Got a late start...oops!

overcast 80 °F

This morning we got a bit of a late start. I set my phone alarm but the clock on my phone went haywire. I should have remembered that this happened last time I was in Europe because it cost us a few hours but what can you do. I woke up around 10am and then got Kristine up shortly thereafter, so it could have been worse. We're staying at Hotel Soho, which is in the Psyrri district of Athens. The area looks a bit seedy/dirty (which we were warned about in the hostelbookers reviews), but it really seems to be harmless. The hotel itself doesn't look like much, but the lobby is pretty and they have free coffee and tea 24 hrs! Last night, I planned out our day as it will be the last in Athens and I wanted to make sure that we fit everything in that we wanted to do. First stop was to pass through Central Market on our way to a neat little restaurant recommended by Frommers. The meat market was cool, but the smell was a bit overwhelming. Athens Central Market!

Athens Central Market!

A butcher at Central Market

A butcher at Central Market

The butchers just stood around swinging their knives/cleavers around and I couldn't help but laugh at the fact that the wonderful legal system in America would never let this happen.
No thank you!

No thank you!

(Not sure what was going on here...what kind of heads are those?)
As is frequently the case, finding the recommended restaurant was easier said than done and so we ended up searching for breakfast elsewhere. Once we were far enough from the smell of Central Market, we were starving but couldn't find a thing to eat besides bread and tea. I'm all for acclimating to the culture, but a little pastry isn't going to fill me up for more than 5 minutes. A few restaurants also had salad bars (strangely one of the meat options at virtually every one was hot dogs) which I would have been happy to opt for, but Kristine was in the mood for a real breakfast. After a long, long while spent zig-zaging streets and searching menus, we finally found Cafe Olympic, whose sign said "full breakfast!" It didn't take too long after we sat down to figure out what a full breakfast means in greece. Their menu had literally 1 breakfast choice on the menu and it was labeled "full breakfast." It included toast (which I had read about being a grilled cheese sandwich in greece) with juice and tea. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind, so I just ordered a greek salad (how original!) and Kristine had a sandwich.

After a somewhat unsatisfying breakfast, we finally continued on to our first itinerary stop of the day at the Athens Archeological Museum
where were able to get a taste of Egypt since we won't be able to visit there on this trip. It was pretty interesting to learn about how Egypt was taken over by Greece and eventually Rome and how their culture blended and evolved accordingly. At one point, I got yelled at when Kristine tried to take a picture of me posing like a statue. Apparently that is not ok around here. The one thing we didn't like was the overload of vases. I enjoyed learning about how the vases were made and how the process became more sophisticated over time, but after seeing 1,001 vases, all of similar shapes and all in red and black, we had had enough. We then took a scenic walk past the National Library, the University of Athens and the Academy of Athens. All were beautiful buildings, but it was sad to see that they had been covered in graffiti. I'm not usually one for shopping during our adventures, but there was one shop mentioned in Frommers that piqued my interest, "Old Prints and Maps," where for as little as 10 euros, you could buy original 19th century prints of Athens and other destinations in Greece. It took a bit to find it, and as our luck would have it, it closed at 3pm, about a half-hour before we got there. We continued on to Shopping Center Plaka, which Frommers said was the one-stop shopping street for all of your souvenirs. Finally, our walk took us to the tomb of the unknown soldier, where we were able to watch the changing of the guard. Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

It is a pretty interesting sight, and the marching and theatrics are unlike anything I have seen before (not to mention the uniforms!).

Next was the Panathenaic Stadium, which was an ancient stadium that was restored to host the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. I had been excited to visit here all day and I was not disappointed. The entrance fee was next to nothing and we were able to listen to a free audio tour about the only stadium in the world made entirely out of marble. We were able to run around the track and go through the ancient tunnel into the stadium. There was even a mini museum with dozens of torches from past Olympic Games.
Torch from the London 2012 Olympics

Torch from the London 2012 Olympics

Climbing to the top of the stadium also provided some pretty amazing views of the city.
View of the Acropolis

View of the Acropolis

After leaving the stadium, the last thing I had planned for the day before dinner was to climb to the top of Lycabettus Hill to watch the sunset. We walked in the general direction of the hill for about half an hour through some pretty neat neighborhoods and the National Gardens. We even passed by Parliament and the President's house (complete with more guards outside wearing their goofy uniforms) I wasn't sure I would make it until dinner so I bought some roasted nuts from a street vendor that were unbelievably good. When we began to ascend the hill (more like a mountain), we looked out at the sky and decided that it was far too cloudy for a decent sunset, not to mention that we were far too hungry, so we started our search for the Athinaikon, which I had picked out in Frommer's for its proximity to Lycabettus Hill and because it was a "Meze" restaurant-basically the greek equivalent of tapas-and we wanted to give it a try. On the way, we stopped at a grocery store for some snacks for lunch tomorrow and it started to sprinkle. Eventually we found the restaurant and it looked like it was out of a movie!
Last Dinner in Athens!

Last Dinner in Athens!

They brought out a pinkish sauce with our bread that we were a bit hesitant about, but I ended up loving. When we tried asking what it was, the waiter said something about eggs and fish so we're guessing it may have been some preparation of caviar (a first for me!). One of the meze plates we had was "Pleurotus Mushrooms on the Grill with Dressing Balsamic" which was absolutely unbelievable. We're hoping that we can find those mushrooms and somehow try to recreate the flavors. The mushrooms somehow tasted like a tender steak. Kristine also ordered "Garlic and Potato Mix Sauce" which was essentially mashed potatoes with a completely overwhelming amount of garlic. We also ordered "Patsaga, a traditional 'tidbit' - salted meat, tomatoes and various sorts of cheese" that we were hoping/expecting would be one of the plates of mixed meats, cheeses and vegetables that we had seen at many restaurants over the past few days. The pastry-looking plate we got instead actually prompted us to ask if we had been given the wrong order, but once we had been assured that it was Patsaga, we dug in and it actually ended up being quite good. I'm not a huge fan of flaky, pastry-type bread, but the insides were surprisingly delicious! We had also ordered 2 glasses of the house red wine and were told that for the same price (4 euros!!!) we could have 500mL, which is 2/3 of a bottle. It was hard to say no to that! After dinner, the light rain had subsided and we walked to Montastiraki square to people watch, then eventually to Adrianou street, to sit with a view of the beautifully flood-lit acropolis. We even had live entertainment on the piano...life is good!
Piano Bar in Athens

Piano Bar in Athens

Once we got home, we rented a car for our travels for the next few days and booked a night at the Hotel Hercules. We'll be picking up our car at Avis tomorrow morning and heading to Delphi to see some ancient ruins then crashing in Olympia before exploring there the following day. We're making it up as we go!

Posted by atbrady 14:37 Archived in Greece Tagged greece market athens museum olympics breakfast hill national full central stadium archeological lycabettus panathenaic psyrri Comments (3)

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