Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Big Fat Greek Odyssey: Athens

Athens is a great city to explore. There's a lot to do and see, and it doesn't have to cost you anything! Seriously, there's a lot of fun spots to check out for free, and they are all within walking distance of the Acropolis. Save your money for the shopping and dining.

Check out the National Garden, only about a ten minute walk from the Acropolis. It's a huge park with lots of trees, flowers, benches, grass, ponds, and lots of animals. They've got lots of walkways and gazebos and playgrounds and even a petting zoo! There were tortoises and swans and koi and turtles all around.

The park has several fountains and statues and Zappeion Hall, a large building that hosts cultural exhibitions and the site of Carnival festivals in Athens. That park was so big that I didn't even get to see it all after spending a few hours exploring it.
It's an enormous park with lots of shade, and you can find your own secret spot to escape the hectic chaos of the city. In fact, I found myself a nice bench to relax and take a little break.

Hmmm...perhaps I was too relaxed.

Not to worry! There are restrooms (Wash Closets) for use.

I found some really great spots. There were several people enjoying their own secret spots. It's a great place to have a picnic or spend some intimate time with good company. It's a very beautiful and serene park.

And when you're done enjoying the park, walk towards the north end. You'll come across Vas Sofias Ave, which is basically like embassy row. Most of the embassies are located along that street. You'll see a lot cops, and it's very secure. Head east on Vas Sofias and you'll find the War Museum.

The War Museum has a great exhibition of Greek military history and some really cool stuff!

I thought I'd fly this jet.

Don't worry, Tom Cruise gave a me some flying lessons.

Check out this statue of Leonidas. Is he about to teabag that guy under him?

Apparently, the Spartans must've fought nekkid. That explains why the vast number of Persians couldn't take out the 300 Spartans for 3 days. It's kind of hard fighting a nekkid man. Talk about distraction!

And when you're done dodging Leonidas spear, keep heading right on Vas Sofias Ave and you'll see this cool sculpture of Heremes.

Speaking of Heremes, as the Messenger God, he's the symbol of the Greek post office. The Greek post office is yellow with a blue picture of Heremes head wearing a helmet with wings.

Greece Travel Tip #5

The Greek Post office drop off boxes are yellow! When you buy your postcards, you can also purchase stamps to go along with them. Shop around for good deals on postcards. The farther the store or kiosk is from the main streets, the less expensive the postcards.
When you're done filling out the postcards, just drop them off at the yellow boxes. There is a post office on Syntagma Square. Just look for the Greek Post Office yellow and blue sign that says Hellenic Post, complete with the head shot of Heremes. Or you can just give your post cards to the front desk at the hotel, and they'll drop them off for you!

If you head north from the War Museum or even the National Garden, you'll get to Mt Lycabettus, the tallest point in Athens. You can see it from the War Museum or National Garden, even from the Acropolis. Just head north. It's about ten minutes from the War Museum. How do you know you're going the right way? Because you're heading towards the hill and you're finding yourself climbing upwards!

There are several ways up the hill; the easiest will be to follow the roads. You'll also find some trails. For the really adventurous, try one of the really steep trails on the backside of the hill. Be warned though that it can be a steep, arduous climb. Take a break, drink some water, and take your time. There are also some people who walk their dogs on the back trails. So be aware that you may come across some dog poop on those back trails, esp. the easy ones. Damn you dog walkers, for not picking up after your dogs! But you'll also find some streams and turtles way up on the hill!

And once you make it on top of the hill, you'll get an incredible 360 degree view of Athens. You'll even see the Acropolis! Now, there is a church on top of the hill. Actually, there are a lot of churches all over Greece. But the small church is full of Greek iconography. There's also a small restaurant on top of the hill. It's a very expensive restaurant, as they know they're the only one on top of the hill. If you want to eat great food, there are plenty of fantastic restaurants and cafes around the Acropolis that cost so much less. But if you want some water, there will be a street vendor selling ice cold water for less, while the restaurants will charge you so much more for a smaller bottle of water.

Greek Travel Tip #6

You'll need some water if you'll be doing a lot hiking and exploring around Greece. There are convenience stores or mini markets that sell bottled water at really low prices compared to the vendors and restaurants. You'll also find local goods, like food and candy, that cost less there than the tourist shops. Buy your water from the convenience stores.

From the top of Mt Lycabettus, you'll see all the historic sites and the urban sprawl. I could even see Panathinaikon Olympic Stadium. Panathinaikon Olympic Stadium is just a five minute walk east of the National Gardens on the south end. It's the only stadium in the world made completely of marble. This is the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. And being a big Olympics fan, you better believe that I went down there to see it!

Just a short walk south of the National Gardens, you'll come across the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. Actually, if you started your trip from the Acropolis, you'll come across the temple before you get to the National Gardens. The Temple of the Olympian Zeus is only about six minutes north of the Acropolis. This large temple was started in the 6th century BC; it took about 700 years to build, and by the looks of it, they still haven't finished building it!

The temple is actually just behind Hadrian's Arch. Now, the Temple of the Olympian Zeus is larger than the Acropolis! But only a few of its remains are still standing. I didn't go inside the gate to see the temple up close. But if you want to, you could buy a ticket to see it up close.

Greece Travel Tip #7

If you want to see the Parthenon up close, you buy a ticket at the foot of the Acropolis. That ticket actually gets you inside several other nearby archaeological sites, including the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, the ancient Agora, and other sites. It's a pretty good deal actually. Otherwise, you can still enjoy the many other sites on the Acropolis that are just as important, and even more exciting that are free.

One of my favorite spots in Athens was Philopapou Hill. Philopapou Hill is right next to the Acropolis. It's on the southwest side. It's a great spot to hike or just escape. I came across a few people making out. But it's also full of history. In fact, the great philosopher Socrates, Plato's teacher, was imprisoned on Philopapou Hill.

My favorite spot on the hill is next to the Philopapou Monument. This is the monument that I kept seeing from my hotel balcony, and I was determined to figure out what the heck it was. And when I got there, I was so glad to have made the hike. The views were incredible! I had found the perfect spot to enjoy the view of the Acropolis, day or night.

And after a long, fun day of exploring Athens, I was ready to eat. Now, I've said before that there are a lot of great restaurants and cafes around the Acropolis. Try a different one every day. You'll find some really great food and fantastic service. There is a wonderful restaurant on the corner of Panos and Pelopida. I luved the view!

And the food was just absolutely delicious! I had a tasty green salad and a delectable plate of gyro!

Even dessert was heavenly! I started devouring it before I had the presence of mind take a snap shot of the cool, tasty banana split and the hot, luscious chocolate souffle.

What's the perfect way to end a meal? Refreshing ouzo shots, compliments of the restaurant!

And finally, after getting up the strength to leave the table, take a nice walk up the Acropolis to enjoy the sunset.

With the mood set, you have the beginnings of a wonderful night. You can find a lot of fun things in Athens, and most of it won't cost you anything. Which is great, because you'll want to save your money for the shopping and souvenirs and drinks. If you're going to be on a holiday, you want to make the most of it. So enjoy it!


  1. YAY First !!!!!
    That dinner looks delicious . I bet you put on a few pounds(or kilograms if you want to be all european about it) while you were there :-)

  2. I love ouzo , did you try the Metaxa (Greek brandy that has a lush caramel flavour , goes down very well with coke .I cant be doing with the fould wine Retsina that taste like it has pine fresh toilet duck added to it......Yak!

  3. Hey look at that old man in the cafe pic covering his face.

    He's having an affair!

  4. Beast, Doing hikes and swims and other fun, rigorous activities helped me feed my appetite without any serious consequences. Although there's nothing wrong with putting on weight from a really great vacation. It means you had fun!

    The Metaxa was great, too! I didn't try the Retsina. But the Ouzo is the best one that I liked!

    MJ, Ha! If anyone clicks on the pic with the shamed old man to make it larger, they can see over my left shoulder, some dude trying to flash the camera, lifting up his shirt!

    I bet he's no stranger to teabagging!

  5. That first shot of the garden is beautiful. They're all excellent shots! It looks and sounds like you had such a wonderful experience over there! What were the temps like in Greece?

  6. Tara, Thanks! It was a great experience. The weather was just perfect--sunny, but mild, dry, and cool! Just remember your sunscreen and maybe a light jacket in case you get chilly at night. No humidity!

  7. Have you noticed that the folded down sunshades look like giant willies.
    Last time I went to Greece at the end of June the temp was 43 C...I nearly expired from the heat

  8. Beast, The whole country was full of penis symbols! Not to mention nekkid statues. I assumed it was a Greek thing.

    I've been told that it does get very humid from the end of June til Aug; that's part of the reason why I went in May :), to avoid the heat. But it's a good reason to cool off by getting into the water to swim and play.