Leaving the islands is always full of mixed feelings. Disappointment in the knowledge that the trip is coming to an end and tinged with a bit of sadness (sometimes a lot of sadness). At the same time, I always have a certain bit of excitement about arriving in Athens. I never tire of visiting this city and it always serves as a good distraction to missing the beautiful islands.
Arriving at the port of Piraeus is far more interesting than departing from it in my opinion. The approach along the coast of Athens gradually become far more densely populated with tower blocks scattered across the skyline. You may catch sight of the New Panathinaikos Stadium with its spaceship-shaped roof. Then before entering the red and white barbershop poles at the entrance to the port, you should see the Parthenon sitting amongst a rocky outcrop with Mount Lycabettus towering over it. I hadn’t yet been to the top of Mount Lycabettus as vertigo really is a problem for me. However, with my newfound bravado (having decided to hand my notice into my corporate job as soon as I got home!) this was going to be at the top of my list! (There is lots of haze coming off the sea on the photo’s below)
As the ferry draws further into the port I spot on the right, the the single towered Church of Zoodochos Pigi. Closeby is the famous Piraeus landmark – the Port Lion. Wikipedia tells me the following about this handsome beast!
” It was looted by Venetian naval commander Francesco Morosini in 1687 as plunder taken in the Great Turkish War against the Ottoman Empire, during which the Venetians captured Athens and Morosini’s cannons caused damage to the Parthenon that was matched only by his subsequent sack of the city. Copies of the statue can also be seen at the Piraeus Archaeological Museum and the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm.
The lion was originally sculpted in about 360 BC, and became a famous landmark in Piraeus, Athens, having stood there since the 1st or 2nd century AD. Its prominence was such that the port eventually became referred to in Italian as Porto Leone (“Lion Port”) as the port’s original name ceased to be used. It is depicted in a sitting pose, with a hollow throat and the mark of a pipe (now lost) running down its back; this suggests that it was at some point used as a fountain. This is consistent with the description of the statue from the 1670s, which said that water flowed from the lion’s mouth into a cistern at its feet.
The statue, which is made of white marble and stands some 3 m (9 ft.) high, is particularly noteworthy for having been in, the second half of the 11th century, inscribed by Scandinavians who carved two lengthy runic inscriptions into the shoulders and flanks of the lion. The runes are carved in the shape of an elaborate lindworm dragon-headed scroll, in much the same style as on runestones in Scandinavia. The Swedes who carved the runes on the lion were almost certainly Varangians, mercenaries in the service of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor.”
Other landmarks you will spot from the ferry are several churches at various points along the port front. Their locations are good to know especially if you need to walk to the Metro Station as they will help you to get your bearings. This ferry disembarked almost opposite the Holy Church of Agios Dionysios which meant that we had to walk around to the right in a clockwise direction to get to the overpass that takes you to the Metro station. If you arrive by Blue Star you will almost always need to walk around to the left in an anti clockwise direction to the metro station.
There is just something really exciting about Piraeus Port. The ships are lined up along the quayside, either having returned from or about to depart to a myriad of islands sprawled across the ocean in all directions. Each ship no matter how big or small, proudly displays its insignia, every one of them taking their duty seriously to get all manner of people and goods to their destinations. I’m sure there are many people like myself who become very attached to the ships they have sailed on over the years and seeing one again after a long time is like seeing an old friend. Who’d have thought I’d have turned into such an anorak in my old age!
Once at the metro station we buy tickets to Monastiraki. We are staying at the Arion Hotel which is a good basic hotel about a 10 minute walk from the metro station. Its wrap around balcony offers views of the Acropolis on one side and inland views of the surrounding hillsides on the other. We like the location in Psiri because of it’s proximity to the metro and the sights. I do know that it can give the impression of being a run down neighbourhood and some people do feel unsafe at night but we always stay in this area and have never had a problem.
We hit the hey after a gin and tonic on the balcony in preparation for our whistle stop tour of Athens the following day.