Greece Pt 2: Athens

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Athens: Day 1

After resting and refreshing we decided to explore the Plaka {old town} as we did our first day.  We wanted to find this famous restaurant that our cousins {and tripadvisor} has highly recommended.  The Psara’s {fisherman’s} Taverna,  is one of the oldest Tavernas in the Plaka.  After wondering around a bit and trying to ask for directions we found a steps leading up to the Taverna. 
{Steps leading up to the restaurant}
The weather was perfect and flowers were blooming all around.  It took a while for us to decide what we wanted to eat and ordered a Greek salad to share before ordering our main course. We could tell that we wouldn’t get sick of the feta cheese. My Mom ordered some cheese pie pastry things and I decided to get some fish considering this was a fish tavern.  I ordered the grilled cuttlefish with lemon and herbs.  The cuttlefish was good, but the rubbery chewy texture kind of freaked me out. {and if you couldn’t guess I don’t like calamari either} Nonetheless I was glad I ordered it.  There was a stray cat lingering around so I decided to feed the poor thing some of my fish.
After we had finished our meals, the waiter brought over free honey cakes for us, this was a pleasant surprise.  My Mom sat at the table for a while chatting before paying the check.  We took a peek inside the Taverna and loved the old  {well it is old!} rustic feel of the place.  I looked at a table and saw a bowl full of box matches! I love to collect match boxes so I was overcome with happiness.  My Mom had to stop me from taking more than two.
{Psara Taverna}
{Greek Salad}
{Cheese puffs}
{Grilled Fresh Cuddlefish}
{Free Honey Cake}
{Kitty}
{Beautiful flowers going up a building nearby}
After lunch, we explored our way around the Plaka in search of some of the ancient ruins.  Along the way we saw a lot of performers playing musical instruments, dancing and painting.  This part of Athens, as I said before _____  is charming.  I was fully entertained just simply looking up at the architecture of the buildings.
{Pretty alleyway}

{Old vases}
We came out to an open area of the Plaka and realized we were right below the Acropolis and saw an ancient ruin right in front of us.  I of course I ripped out my Athens travel book; Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 Athens, {which I highly recommend, explains everything you would want to see and how to get there!} and saw that it was the Roman Forum and the Tower of the Winds. Built in the 1st century AD by the Romans, this was the new marketplace for Athens.  The marketplace was used until about the 19th century.  The Tower of the Winds which was inside the Roman Forum, marketplace;  was actually built in 50 BC and has had a clock run by a stream that flowed down from the Acropolis Rock.  At the entrance to the Roman Forum there was the Gate of Athena Archegetis which was an arch built by Julius Ceasar and Augustus in 11 BC.  Ceasar and Augustus put an inscription at the top of the arch which now can only be seen at noon because of the way the sun casts a shadow.
{Tower of the Winds}
{Roman Forum- New Marketplace}
{Me in front of the Gate of Athena Archegetis}
{Pretty Side view}

 {Flowers}

A few yards away was the old marketplace, the Agora.  The Agora was built in the 6th century BC and was used for over 1,200 years.  Socrates spoke here, St Paul preached here and democracy was born here.  Although it was closed this day, we could see plenty through the fence.  We also got a pretty good view of the Temple of Hephaestus, which is the best preserved temple in Greece.
 {Agora-Original Market Place}
  {Agora-Original Market Place}

{Agora} 
 {Temple of Hephaestus}
My Mom and I wondered around some more and decided to stop at an outside cafe named Bepanta, for a beer.  We opted for the huge beers and sat, relaxed and people watched.  People in Athens were fascinating to watch. (Greek people in general)
{We could barely hold these with one hand}
{Momma with a Big Old Mythos}
While sitting we noticed a relict nearby.  We went to check it out after leaving the cafe and couldn’t figure out from my map what it was.  After several failed attempts of asking people what the heck this thing was.  We took some pictures and gave up.  We then saw some cute shops nearby and went inside one.  One in particular was a jewelry shop.  I had been thinking about getting a gold Greek key bracelet but after looking at the price tag, threw that idea out of the window.  The jewlery shop owner was very persistent and followed us out the door.  When leaving I saw the unknown relict and asked her what it was.  She told us it was Hadrian’s Library.  It was built in 131 AD and had recently been excavated and opened to the public.
 {Hadrian’s Library}
  {Hadrian’s Library}
We got kind of lost getting back to the hotel, but it turned out to be a good thing.  We wandered into a more modern party of the city.  It really reminded me of any other city minus the sky scrapers. With H&M, and other various commercial stores and restaurants all around.  We found this tiny old historic church just slapped in the middle of everything. We then found ourselves down some back tight alleys and had to cave and ask someone for directions.
{Old Church smack in the middle of everything}
By the time we got back to the hotel room it was time for a little nap, reading and showering.  We had planned to head to this restaurant/bar for dinner, called Aristera/Dexia which means Right/Left.  We were told by our cousins from Bethesda that this place was a night time fun bar/resturant with music and a glass floor that lets you see right into the winecellar! However it was pretty far away in the Gazi and we would have to call a taxi.  We had also been told this wasn’t the best part of town and to have our waiter call us a cab when we were finished with our meal.  When we were all ready to go, we went to the front desk and asked them to call us a ride.  After talking on the phone for a minute or two, the receptionist hung up and said that he would not recommend us going there. For one it opened up at midnight and two it was no longer a restaurant and now an intense nightclub where the locals went.
We were glad we didn’t call a cab on our own and find this out.  We thanked the receptionist and decided to eat at the rooftop resuraunt since it was getting late and it was right there.  And how expensive can it be right?  My Mom and I were seating and we had one of the best seats in the house to view the Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus and Lykavittos Hill all lit up.  When the menus came we almost gasped at the prices.  Drinks were not ordered, only waters.  I wanted to leave but my Mom wouldn’t allow it.  We both ordered side salads and tried to fill up on the free bread.  I ordered a mustard walnut salad and my Mom a Greek Salad.  I guess you pay high dollar for the view! 

 {filling up on bread-checkout the twinkling lights in the background!}
After dinner we called it a night and were very excited to start another day of exploring.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Athens: Day 2

We woke up bright and early for breakfast.  They had the same options from when we had stayed here before going to Vasta and we were ecstatic.  This time we would have time to relax, not rush and actually enjoy breakfast.  We sipped great coffee, ate our weight in greek yogurt with honey and soaked in the beautiful view once again.  No matter how many times my Mom and I went to the rooftop, we just could not get enough of the view. The view is definitely worth paying more to stay here.
{Momma Sipping Greek Coffee on the Rooftop}
Our first stop was Filopappos Hill., aka the Hill of the Muses.  Filopappos hill is a massive hill filled with different forestry paths and monuments.  According to my book, during the first day of lent, tons of people come to Filopappos Hill to fly kite.  My Mom and I looked at our map and headed on our way.  We saw a huge steep path of steps and took those, according to the directions we were there.  I know I am not the most in shape person but this climb was intense. After we climbed up the man made, graffiti ed steps there were, from what it seemed, a mile going uphill to the top. There were so many nooks and sub paths, many times we would have to turn around and find another way. I felt like we were totally lost because we hadn’t seen another human in sight since we had started up this massive hill. How can this place be one of the most popular things to do? I looked to my left and saw about five tents with homeless people and their dogs starting to perk up.  I was deathly afraid that we were going to get mugged! Or Worse!  Finally, we got to the top, which was extremely rocky.  It was a spectacular view and definitely worth the blood, sweat and tears getting there.
 {Start of the climb-Graffiti is like this all over the city-minus the ancient relics}
 (Never ending stairs}
 {Starting to get rugged}
 {Steep!}
 {Can see the whole city from up here}
 {Posing in front of the Acropolis-On top of Filopappos Hill}
 {Such a wonderful view}
 {You can see the sea way out in the distance!}
 {Momma in posing in front of the Acropolis}
 {Awesome View of the Acropolis}

 We noticed a historic monument about 50 yards away.  I whipped out my book and we saw it was the Filopappos Monument.  Supposedly a Roman senator by the name of Gaius Julius Antiochus Filopappos loved classical Greek culture. He died in Athens in 114Ad and the Greek people built this monument and tomb to honor him as a true Athenian Citizen.

{In front of Filopappos Monument}
We started seeing other people at this point and became relieved.  I looked at my book map and we started off trying to see the other historical stuff on the hill.  There were so many dirt paths, we just picked one and we started walking.  We found ourselves in a deserted part of the hill again.  I kept wanting to press forth.  My Mother, whom has been yelling at me for wearing flip flops, was for once right for yelling at me. {hey I didn’t know this was going to be a treacherous hike with mountain climbing} I took a major tumble down one of the dirt paths that were going downhill and almost completely destroyed my new camera.  Luckily it only scratched and I just slightly twisted my ankle.  We trekked on dispite my Mom thinking we should go a different way.  Finally, when we felt like we were being watched and began to see some campsites we turned around and found another way.  
 {Near where I took the tumble}
 {Turtle}
{Another Turtle}
 A stoned and manicured area was seen up ahead.  We saw a bunch of people gates and a little information booth etc.  Basically my Mom and I had entered the hill on the completely other side, hence why we had the strenuous hike up the hill.  We noticed a cute little church open so we stuck our heads inside. The Church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris. It was all decked out with golden candlesticks and religious artifacts.  My mom and I each lit a candle, which in Greek Orthodox Religion means we are now enlightened by Christ, “The light of Christ”.
{Nice-touristy part of the Hill}
{Church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris}
 {Entrance of the Church}
 {Inside Church}
 {Lighting of the candle}
 {Awesome}

Right across from the church was the Prison of Socrates; the cave where Socrates was imprisoned and sentenced to death. Socrates died in 399BC and was one of the most famous classical philosophers.  His faithful disciples sat with him as drank poison as his death sentence. We then walked to another section that had other cool tombs/caves.

{The Prison of Socrates}
 {Closer View of Socrates’ Prision}

{Another ancient tomb}
 {“Diplyon Above the Gates”}
We exited out the normal way from Phiopappos Hill and we came out right near the Plaka.  The National Gardens were nearby so we headed that way to sit and have a coffee.  Oasis Cafe had pretty outside and shaded seating so we stopped there and ordered coffee freddos.  After relaxing we took a stroll around the national gardens.  Many parts were shaded and it was great to have relief from the hot sun.
 {Coffee Freddo @ Oasis Cafe}
 {Momma with her coffee}
 {Stone chairs}
 {Leading out of the National Gardens}
 {Statue in the Garden}
 Parlimant was on the ourskirts of the National Gardens so we stopped by for some photo’s even though it would be part of our tour the next day. It had a big open area in front of the building with a beautiful fountain.  There were a few tourists nearby but not crowded by any means.  My Mom went off to take some pictures of the fountain while I took some pictures of the building and “orange tree things.”  As soon as i put my camera down, I see this little Greek man come running up to me with glasses.  I’d say late 20s to early 30s.  He asked if I wanted him to take a picture of me with my camera.  I immediately knew this guy was sketchy and declined and started to walk away.  He then stopped me and impeded my path and asked if I spoke English.  I said yes and of course this made me let my guard down thinking he was going to ask me a question. {directions, etc} He got super close and I knew he was trying to pick pocket me.  He kept saying nonsense and I kept trying to step back.  At one point he said I had beautiful eyes… I was wearing huge dark sunglasses.. good try buddy.  His breath was appalling.  He then grabs me by my shoulders and starts to kiss me on my cheek. I kept my hands on my purse and moved it so he couldn’t reach.  Knowing he couldn’t get in my purse he went for the cheek kisses again.  I then felt him tap my booty. I was so shocked when this happened I didn’t know what to do.  Next thing you know, I hear my Mother yelling, “Tara, Tara!” She just had seen this man near me and started trotting over.  I turned my head from looking at my Mother to the man but he was gone, like a ghost.  We were in a wide open space I have no idea where he had fled to.  
I was pretty pissed that this little man had tried to pull on over on me, and also disgusted he had touched me.  We checked my purse and the jewelry I had on and we didn’t find anything to be stolen. Thank goodness.
 {Pretty Fountain}
 {Parliament}
{Right after this picture was when the little man arrived}
Our stomach rumbled so we headed out of the gardens into the Plaka in search of a little restaurant called “Thanasis.” Our Greek cousins from Bethesda had recommended it to us, and said it was a cheap place with amazing kebabs.  Right outside of the gardens we saw the section blocked off next to the main street.  We went to check it out and it was ancient Roman Baths! Pretty Awesome and once again just smack dab in the middle of everything.  Shortly into our journey into the Plaka, we came across a beautiful Russian Church.  We were sad it was locked but took a quick picture. We came across a linen shop and a table cloth had been on my wish list for things to buy in Greece.  We went in and I talked the lady down to 50 Euros for a hand stitched white table cloth {with white flowers} and matching napkins. I was very excited for this grown up purchase.  Down the street we saw this tiny tiny building underneath a huge office building.  It looked like a church and it was open so we checked it out.  It was a historical monument, so they had built around/over top of it.
 {Roman Baths}
 {Russian Church}
{Russian Church}
 {Tiny Church- Underneath building}
 {Other Side of Church}

 After asking directions a million times we stumbled upon the street that Thanasis was supposed to be on.  On that street we saw this gigantic church. I looked in my book and low and behold it was Mitropoli, which had been on our lists of things to see.  Mitropoli was built in 1862 {no by no means ancient} and was the first church built in 1862 when Greece won its independence and was where Greek Orthodoxy was born.  It is huge with beautiful frescoes and fancy decor.  Supposedly the architecture of the building is horrible and it is almost always under repair.

{Entrance to Mitropoli}
 {Beautiful}
 {Inside}
 {Candle holder}
 {Fancy Stuff}
 Finally we stumbled upon Thanasis. We were seated outside.  From the looks of the place I was not impressed.  It was on a tight busy narrow street/alleyway.  We both ordered the kebabs and they came out quickly.  I had asked the waiter how much the Tzatziki sauce was. {a dip of Greek yogurt, olive oil, dill, cucumber, garlic, etc} and I decided not to order it because it was only like a euro less than my whole meal! The waiter felt bad and brought me out a little dish of the tzatziki and it made my kebabs even better.  Begging kids bothered the heck out of us though.  I know this sounds mean and I should be sympathetic but immigrant, middle eastern kids filled the streets with accordions to each table.  While one played the other would basically lay their head on their hand and elbow on table and sigh pitifully with their hand out for money.  When people would deny they would yell something in another language and more to the next table.  They were beyond annoying.  Although it may not look it, Thanasis’ food is awesome and I highly recommend.  We wondered around a different way than usual towards the hotel.  We saw some pretty buildings along the way.

 {Kebabs on pita}

{Cute Boutique}
It was nap time and showering for us when we returned to the hotel. Strofi was on the itinerary to eat tonight.  Supposedly it is a hidden gem with a great view of the acropolis with a lighter price tag.  We walked to another part of town and found the restaurant without a problem. We were led to the rooftop and were impressed with the view.  We ordered our go to beer- Mythos and munched on the free bread and dips.  We weren’t super hungry so we shared a Greek salad and each ordered an appetizer. I ordered the zucchini balls and my Mom a spinach pie. We met this nice newly wed couple who was from the USA on their honeymoon. They too were  headed to Santorini at one point after Athens, but first they were visiting Mykonos.  The bill came it was pretty cheap. We were happy to dine at such a nice clean place with good food without it costing a fortune.  After we paid our bill the waiter brought us out a small bottle of Raki {Greek liquor} and two shot glasses for free. It hurt like hell going down and as mentioned before is common to drink in Greece after meals to help with digestion.. or get you drunk…..
 {Strofi}
 {Awesome view}
 {Cretan bread, tomatoes and cheese}

 {s

 {Greek Salad}
 {View of acropolis}
 {Spinach Pie}
 {Zucchini Balls}
 {Herodes Atticus Theatre}
 {Free Raki!}

 After dinner we stopped by the Wine Bar, named Winepoint that our travel agent had recommended.  We went in and looked at the menu. Everything was in Greek.  The waitress tried to explain to us in English the wines and we simply asked for the cheapest Merlot and cheapest Cabernet Sauvignon. The waitress brought out little pretzels and bread sticks with our wine. We sat for about 30 mins and talked before heading home for bed

 {Could this be heaven?}

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Athens: Day 3

 The next day we woke up early to shower and grab some breakfast on the glorious hotel roof top before our 8am pickup for our 5 hour Athens tour.  Today we would see the Acropolis! Finally! A bus picked us up at our hotel with about 20 people on board and we went on our way.  We first stopped at the Panathenaic Stadium; which was the stadium that hosted the very first Olympic games in 1896. The stadium was reconstructed from the remains of an ancient stadium.  Pretty cool. We loaded off the bus and took some quick pictures.

{Panathenaic Stadium}
 We loaded back on the bus and drove around the city.  I couldn’t understand everything our tour guide was pointing out.  We drove by Parliament ,the National Bank, and University of Athens before pulling up in the parking lot right below the Acropolis.  We walked up tons of steps to the gate and sat for about 20 minutes until our guide came back with our tickets.  It was fine at first because the gates hadn’t opened yet but shortly after we got there they did and crowds of people flew inside. We noticed tons of stray dogs basking in the sunshine right outside the gates of the acropolis.  We finally went inside and our tour guide made us stop again! Right before the good stuff.  She whipped our a map and started chatting away about what we were going to see.  It sucked. Over the ledge we could see the Herodes Atticus Theatre which was built in 161 AD to host festivals and the Dionysus Theatre and was built much earlier and was less intact.  We finally started heading to the actual sites which was more crowded than hell. Now for informative purposed I want to clarify.  The Acropolis is the sacred rock/land that a bunch of ancient temples sit on top of . When you first go into the Acropolis you walk through the Propylaia.  The Propylaia is the ancient entrance that all ancient Greeks passed through when coming to the Acropolis and its temples.  Here was where the major hold up was.  People would stop to take pictures going in and out. {I too am guilty of this} There were also dogs laying on the steps. I accidentally stepped on one and felt horrible. To the left was the Temple of Athena Nike that was built in the goddess’ honor.  It was also built on the rock’s most vulnerable spot to help protect it from Greece’s enemies.  
 {Doggie}
 {Big fat thing}
 {Please Stop Talking}
 {Herodes Atticus Theatre}
 {Dionysus Theatre}
 {Propyalia}
 {Propyalia}
 {Propylaia}
 {Temple of Athena Nike}
Once we went through the ancient entrance, we could see the Parthenon! But of course our tour guide made us stop again. This last for about 30 minutes and after over half of our group leaving because they were so bored with her, my Mom and I did too. We ventured over to the Erechtheion which was built to unite separate temples for Athena and Poseidon who duked it out for patronage of Athens.
 {Erechtheion}
 {Mom with Erechtheion in the background}
 {In front of the Erechtheion}
 {Erechtheion}
 {Erechtheion}
We then walked the few yards away to the famous Parthenon! I was so excited to finally be seeing it.  The Parthenon was built around 447 BC for the Goddess of Athena and is the most famous relic of ancient Greece. Of course my Mom and I had a field day taking pictures.  Time went too fast and we had to meet our group back at the gate to walk to the New Acropolis Museum.  
 {Parthenon}
  {Parthenon}
  {Parthenon}
  {Parthenon}
  {Parthenon}
 {Parthenon}
  {Parthenon}
  {Parthenon}
 {Old column}
 {Columns}

 We met back with the group and walked to the new Acropolis museum.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside which was a bummer. The same thing happened with our tour guide as before. Talking and Talking.  People ditched her a lot quicker this time.  We could tell she was upset but hey, I paid A LOT of money to go on this vacation I am going to do what I want.  My Mom and I walked around the museum for a bit.  It was full of things that had been dug up from the acropolis and around Athens. 
 {New Acropolis Museum}

After, we were off to find the metro to visit Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery.  Since this was in the Gazi; that not so nice part of town we were supposed to dine at a few nights before. We took the metro.  Of course it was an ordeal on figuring it out; how to pay and which train/stop to get off on.  We finally got off at the stop.  We walked up the steps into the daylight and the Gazi did not even look like Athens,very industrial.  We wondered around for a while and could not find this darn cemetery.  When asking for directions we could not find anyone who knew English.  We walked around for over an hour before almost giving up.  The nice lady was kind enough to  walk us to the entrance. We would have never found it.  The thing about Athens is, their sites are not displayed {with an exception of the Acropolis} you never know if what you are looking at is a site or not.  We entered the ancient cemetery and were told that they were closing in 15 mins! I would be damned if I came all this way and wondered around without seeing this place.  My Mom and I quickly walked through and snapped some pictures. 

 {Eerie}
 {Marble Bull}

 {Stele of Hegeso}
We were kicked out soon after and decided that in actuality weren’t that far from the Plaka.  I wanted to get the heck out of that part of town as I saw a man whip out his thingy and start peeing all over the wall.  We walked back through the Plaka and tried to go inside the other ancient sites that we had seen through the fences on Sunday and Monday; but as it turned out they were all closing at 3pm because it was the off season and the officials had just decided to. 🙁  No warning or anything.  Oh well at least we got to see it through the fences. Although it would have been cool to walk amongst the column as we did on top of the Acropolis. {at least we did that!}
We stopped for a water and a Cretan salad at a place called Icegrill. In all honesty we were starving and just picked anywhere to grab bite. After the long trek back to the hotel we relaxed showered then decided it was time to buy our trinkets since it was our last day.  I bought some touristy things such as a Parthenon magnet, worry beads, an old looking map of Athens {the one the tour guide had been holding up  in the picture a bunch of pics up} along with some other junk.  We then wondered around the Plaka and found a nice outside sit down place to eat dinner. We both ordered Gyros and and Huge Alpha beers.  I saw an old dog laying nearby looking helpless so I brought him some of my scraps. After dinner we went across the street to grab some gelato before heading back to the room to pack and get some sleep before being picked up super early for SANTORINI!!!!
 {Cretan Salad from Icegrill}
 {Our dinner view}
 {Yummy Gyros!}
 {The Gelato Spread}

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