Athens is the starting point for our next trip. I’d usually have a day or two in Athens at the end of an island hopping trip because you know that feeling when you leave the islands? Sometimes like a little bit of your heart has broken off? Yes, and Athens is a good diversion from that. And besides, my initial idea was to spend a couple of days in Nafplio but it was too tortuous to work out the bus route from Nafplio to Monemvasia which is where we will be spending Easter. At least I know it is a straight forward, ‘goddang’ five and half hour bus journey from Athens with no changes. If all goes go plan our onward destinations will be the islands of Kythira and Elafonisos and then on to Gythio and Areapolis before ending up in Kalamata where we will fly home – all in three weeks.
We’re booked into the budget Epidavros Hotel which is on the edge of Omonia Square and Psiri. I’ve stayed there before when my other favourite budget options aren’t available so I knew what I was getting. Good, basic, clean accommodation with breakfast. No fancy roof terrace views of the Acropolis – but I’ve done that on several previous occasions.
This is a lovely time of year to be in Athens. Despite the overcast weather, it is warm and the streets lined with orange trees are in full bloom. Even above the pollution the small of the orange blossom fills your nostrils.
Before we flew out of Manchester, we’d watched the Travel Man, 24 Hours in Athens. I’m a big fan of Richard Ayoade and his travel show and this one didn’t disappoint. Usually very informative and sometimes a little bit tongue in cheek but often offering off the beaten track options in a variety of cities.
One of the highlights of this trip was a visit to Lake Vougliameni not far outside of Athens. After Googling several ways to get there, amongst local bus services, there was an option for the Hop On and Hop Off bus. For 16€ per person for a 2 day ticket this looked like a good (lazy) option to get us around the city. We’d done the HOHO bus several years ago and there is the danger that you stay on the bus and don’t actually get off and explore. However, even if we only used it to get to Lake Vougliameni it would be worth it.
From Omonia Square we took the HOHO bus up to the Acropolis where we had to catch the connecting Beach and Lake Vougliameni bus. Unfortunately this only runs every 2 hours and we’d just missed one but this gave us an opportunity to take a stroll around the Hill of Muses. Our first stop is the Prison of Socrates
In Athens and I guess in most other cities you will always find things that you’ve not had chance to visit before. I’d never taken the walk up to Philopappos Hill so this is what we do.
Today the weather is a little overcast and hazy but warm. This doesn’t make for good photographs but it does make for good walking conditions. The walk up to the Philopappos monument is via winding stone steps from which spring flowers are sprouting. Trees offer plenty of shade along the way. There are lots of little vantage points on the way up which offer vignettes of the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus. Even from here I can see that the monument is heaving with tourists, all looking like tiny ants from here.
Once at the top, the views are spectacular. Not only the views to the Acropolis but over across the city to the port of Piraeus.
Anyway, back at the bus exchange, things are very busy. It seems that most of the people queuing for the HOHO buses are on one of several cruise liners that are docked in Piraeus. A single decker open top bus takes us to Lake Vougliameni which is where we pay our first homage to the Travel Man. Richard Ayoade and comedian Dawn French had visited the lake where the feeder fish eat the dead skin from your feet. Sorry but this is where I draw the line. I’ve had these miniature piranha type fish attack me before in Egypt and it isn’t the nicest of sensations! Instead we settle for lunch with a glass of wine before taking a stroll down to Astir beach.
Before long it’s time for the return bus to Athens – being two hours apart you need to time it well so you are aren’t stuck for too long. Back at the Acropolis we take a slow stroll back down to Monastiraki. Passing the Tower of the Winds and down to Tzisdarakis Mosque.
Once in Monastiraki we go in search of the second recommendation from the Travel Man – loukoumades from Lukumades in Monastiraki – and this definitely doesn’t disappoint.
It’s obviously a very popular place to go but we do manage to get seats inside next to the counter. From here we can see the loukoumades being fried, stuffed (yes you can get them filled with whatever flavourings you like) and drizzled with an array of naughtiness! We opt for white chocolate and praline. Now Richard couldn’t manage the whole 9 and my husband can’t manage the whole 9. What a couple of lightweights. 9 is definitely the right amount! However, that polished us off for the rest of the day!
The following morning we go straight to the Museum of Cycladic Art, somewhere that I haven’t managed to make on previous trips to Athens. It’s a very well laid out museum and definitely worth the visit.
We end up near Syntagma Square and decide to check out the Evzones. It’s been a while but as it’s nearly on the hour we know we will catch the changing of the guards. Always an interesting visit!
After a short stroll through the National Gardens we decide to catch the HOHO bus to Piraeus.
I’m not sure why, but sometimes when you have so much to see and do on your door step it is easy to become overwhelmed and unclear of what to do next. The idea is that we’d take the ride to the old port and then return on the next bus which runs every 30 minutes.
En route we sailed by the Stadium of Peace and Friendship. Shortly after we passed three huge cruise liners that were docked in the port. Apparently yesterday the newest and largest cruise liner in the world had docked in Piraeus – no wonder everywhere was heaving!
By the time we get back to the Acropolis and stroll down to Plaka it begins to shower so we take refuge in one of the taverna’s that I’ve always seen as the heart off the tourist trap. However, touristy it is here, the meal at Anafiotika is very enjoyable. We opt for a mixed grill for two with a small bottle of ouzo. I for one think ouzo should only be drunk in Greece – it never is the same when you drink it back home! At the end of our meal we are brought complimentary dessert and masticha which serves as an excellent digestive.
The shower is light and brief and whilst in Plaka, we take time to explore the charming streets and alleyways and add a few more door knocker photographs to my collection!
Finally, a little bit about the Epidavros Hotel. This was my second stay here and I would class it as a good budget option. When we arrived we were given a double room on the 7th floor. The mattress on the bed was a spring mattress and did not aid a good nights sleep. The following morning we asked at reception if they had a better mattress for us. The manager came and offered us another room on the first floor with memory foam mattresses which was perfect. Some people believe that Omonia Square ans Psirri areas of Athens are dangerous. We have never found this to be so. We like the location and the eclectic mix of shops and also the choice of good budget hotels such as the Arion, Euripides and Attalos Hotels. The downside to our stay at the Epidavros is that it was rather noisy – mainly due to the fact that there were lots of Greek families staying in the hotel who didn’t think twice about holding loud conversations in the corridor at all hours of night – being the sociable people that they are. Would I stay here again? It isn’t my first choice of budget hotel but if I can’t get into the others – we’ll see.
This brings our whistle stop tour in Athens to an end. Tomorrow we travel to Monemvasia by bus – five and a half hours straight through with one rest break. Thank heavens the Peloponnese landscape is stunningly beautiful!