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Found 6 results

  1. Clare

    Day 9: Delphi to Athens

    It was a bright sunny day when we woke up in Delphi this morning. After breakfast in our hotel, we enjoyed a final look at the view from our balcony, and then it was time to set off on our journey back to Athens. We knew we had about 3 hours of driving ahead of us, but as our flight back to London wasn't until 20.00 this evening, we wanted to try to do something more interesting with the day than drive straight down the motorway back to Athens. From doing some research online last night, we found that there is an "old" route between Delphi and Athens which doesn't involve going on the toll road. That sounded like it might be a lot more scenic! Our journey started by leaving Delphi behind and driving towards the small village of Itea. Itea is situated on the coast and we thought it was the seaside town that we had been able to see in the distance from our balcony. We found a place to park and admired the impressive Greek Orthodox church. It was really beautiful. We walked down from the church to the seafront. The views here were really beautiful too. We watched a fishing boat coming into the harbour, completely surrounded by seagulls! And when we turned our backs on the sea, we could see up to Delphi on the slopes above. We left Itea and began to drive through the mountains, in the direction of a town called Distomo. The road here was really spectacular... ...and we had some more incredible views out to sea. It's hard to make out in the photo, but there was a beautiful little Orthodox church with a blue roof on the top of the hill in front of us at this viewpoint. We continued around the coast for a while... ...before stopping by the sea in Distomo. There were some great views here too, and a little lighthouse. From here our route took us inland. We drove through the nearby town of Livadia, but didn't stop because it all looked rather industrial. We continued on via minor roads to the village of Chaeronea, where we had read online that there was an ancient theatre. There was indeed, and it was quite an unusual one, carved into the side of the mountain. We drove on more tiny roads, past interesting churches, towards the village of Orchomenus. There was a pretty monastery here.... ...as well as another ancient theatre. It was mid-afternoon by this point, so we needed to make progress back towards Athens. Tim successfully navigated the route back in and we handed back the hire car without any problems. Phew. We had just enough time to head back to one of the restaurants we'd enjoyed during the week for a late lunch. Tim went for a dish of beef and onions, in a tomato sauce... ...while I decided to try a Greek dish called pastitsio, which was basically like a Greek lasagne It was a lovely meal, and a fun end to what has been a really great holiday. Greece has definitely surpassed my expectations, and I'm not sure anywhere will ever surpass the view from our Delphi hotel
  2. Clare

    Day 5: Athens to Olympia

    Today it was time for us to say goodbye to Athens and set off on the next part of our adventure. The place we had hired a car from was in the centre of Athens, a little further on from Hadrian's Arch, so we had a bit of a walk to reach it first thing. We'd hired the car at the last minute and gone for the cheapest car on offer; a small Nissan Micra. The prices seemed ridiculously good value after Iceland; we paid £76 for five days, which is cheaper even than our car hire in the Azores! We picked up the car without any problems and Tim took plenty of photos of the bumps and scratches the car was already covered in! Then we were off, with the first part of the journey probably being the most nervewracking: driving out of Athens! As you can probably imagine, the standard of driving in Athens is rather chaotic, not helped by the numerous mopeds weaving in and out of the traffic, people walking across the street at random and vans simply stopping in the middle of a lane when there isn't anywhere else to park. Luckily, Tim had downloaded the maps of Greece to our Sat Nav before leaving home and so we were able to follow its directions without too many problems. I thought we might get stuck for ages in traffic jams, but it wasn't actually too bad and before long we were out of the busiest part of the city and driving off towards Corinth. I had expected us to be on a large motorway, for which I knew we would have to pay a small toll, but had forgotten that the Sat Nav was set to automatically avoid tolls. It therefore avoided the main road and led us down a series of much more scenic smaller roads along the coast. After an hour or so we reached the Corinth canal, which we had just got a glimpse off as we crossed it on the train to Corinth yesterday. Being in a car meant that this time we were able to stop to take photos There had been attempts to build a canal through the isthmus at Corinth since ancient times, but a combination of geological and financial problems meant that the canal wasn't successfully built until 1891. The high limestone walls of the canal are quite susceptible to landslides, however, and the canal itself isn't wide enough for most modern cargo ships, so today it mostly only used by tourist boats. After Corinth, our route took us through an increasingly mountainous countryside. I had expected Greece to quite dry and barren, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much greenery there was here. At one point we came across a herd of goats who were quite casually sitting in the middle of the road We also passed countless beautiful churches. I've got no idea why, but every now and again we also passed what looked like small shrines with models of churches by the side of the road. Our ultimate destination for the day was Olympia, but with the freedom the car gave us we wanted to take the opportunity to visit another town: Nafplio. Nafplio is a seaside town, and supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the Peloponnese. I'd read online that there was free parking down by the port, so we headed there. Luckily this information turned out to be true, as it looked like parking would be a nightmare otherwise! As we got out of the car, pretty much the first thing we saw was this castle in the middle of the sea. As we turned around towards the town, we then saw that it was in the shadow of this huge fortress on the mountain above. It reminded me a bit of the fortress in Kotor in Montenegro. We were quite hungry by this point, so decided to get lunch at one of the restaurants along the seafront. I was very excited to find pizza on the menu (first pizza I've seen in Greece!). Tim ordered a burger, and was surprised when it arrived and turned out to be two burgers! Unluckily, he also ended up with sweet potato fries rather than normal chips. After lunch we went for a stroll around Nafplio. It really is an extremely pretty town. There was a colourful main square... ...narrow little streets, full of flowers... ...and a big clock tower on the hill behind the town. It definitely felt like a place we could come back to and spend more time We still had a couple of hours of driving to do cross-country to Olympia though, so it was time to take a move. Our journey took us on slightly bigger roads this time, but still on winding routes through the mountains. At one point we came to an amazing village, perched on the mountainside. I've got no idea what it was called, but it was in an amazing location. Shortly after that we came to another viewpoint at a rather rocky part of the road. The view down into the valley from here was absolutely spectacular I didn't expect Greece to be this scenic! It didn't take us too long from here to get to Olympia. We are staying for two nights in an apartment which seems incredibly good value, at £52/night. As well as this kitchen/living/dining area (with random spare beds), we've got a separate bedroom and bathroom, plus a little outdoor terrace Tomorrow we're looking forward to visiting the archaeological site of Archea Olimpia, where the ancient Olympic games were held!
  3. Clare

    Day 4: Corinth

    Our aim for today was to visit the ruins of ancient Corinth. On a map, Corinth looks like it ought to be an easy day-trip away from Athens, but it was actually surprisingly difficult. First of all we had to catch a train, which runs from Athens to Corinth station once an hour. The main train station in Athens isn't far from where we are staying, so this part of the journey was quite straightforward. Return tickets to Corinth cost €14.50 each, which didn't seem too bad considering the journey took just over an hour in each direction. The train station is in a town known as Νέα Κόρινθος (New Corinth), which was founded in 1858 after an earthquake wiped out the existing town of Corinth. The guidebook warned that, because the town was so new, there wasn't really anything of interest to see here. The site of ancient Corinth is located several kilometres away from the new town, which meant that we needed to catch a bus. Unfortunately, the bus station is located on completely the opposite side of town from the train station so, with the help of Google Maps on my phone, we had a 3km walk through Corinth. Not long after we set off we were accosted by a taxi driver who, obviously wanting to charge us an extortionate fare, tried to tell us that we would need to take three buses to get to Ancient Corinth. What I'd read on the internet definitely didn't suggest that this was the case, so we persevered and eventually made it to the bus station. In fact, on the way we even found the sea This part of Corinth was actually quite pretty. It was around 11.30 by the time we got to the bus station. The bus to Ancient Corinth only runs once an hour, so we had a while to wait in the bus station. Bus stations in Greece seem even more low-tech than in Croatia and Montenegro; the bus timetables weren't even posted on the walls, you had to go to an information desk to consult a piece of paper there instead! The bus was supposed to arrive around midday but it wasn't terribly punctual, so I began to worry it wasn't going to materialise and we should have taken the taxi driver up on his offer after all. Thankfully, around 12.10 it eventually pulled into the bus station. Phew! The journey to Ancient Corinth took less than half an hour and cost €1.80 each, which I'm sure is a lot cheaper than a taxi would have been! As we were getting off, the bus driver told us the timetable for the return journey and that the bus would pick us up from the same place; that was good to know, because there was no bus timetable on display here either! We turned a corner and got our first view of the ruins. Wow It cost €8 each for a ticket to get in, so cheaper than the Acropolis. Corinth was one of the largest cities in Ancient Greece, with a population of 90,000 people in 400 BC. The town was captured and significantly destroyed by the Romans in 146BC, but then rebuilt as a Roman colony in 44BC. The most striking part of the ruins is the remains of the Temple of Apollo. As we walked around the temple, we could see what looked like the remains of a fortress on the hilltop behind. These are the remains of Acrocorinth, which the guidebook had said was a 4km walk from Ancient Corinth. It looked like that would be a very steep 4km, so we decided to give it a miss In addition to the Temple of Apollo, there were remains of several smaller temples... ...as well as numerous other columns and pillars, some of which had really elaborate detail on them. We could just about make out the remains of painted colours on these stones... ...and this stone seemed to have some Roman writing on it. Of course, there are also biblical associations with Corinth. St Paul not only wrote letters to the Corinthians but lived in the city for a while, during which time he was put on trial for conducting illegal teachings. The trial is believed to have taken place here at the rostrum, a large platform used for public speaking. A church was later built on the spot during the Byzantine period. I'd expected the ruins to be quite busy - and there were a few coaches in the car park - but as we were walking around it actually seemed pretty peaceful. It was definitely a lot quieter than Athens, and the views were really spectacular. The way out of the site lay down a wide Roman road, lined with the remains of buildings on both sides. It certainly wasn't a bad view to end with There's a small town outside the ruins, where we found a restaurant to have a belated lunch. I tried chicken souvlaki today, which were really nice, and Tim went for a mixed grill. For pudding we tried baklava, a pastry filled with honey and nuts, which was lovely too. The coffee we had was Turkish though, so we had to be careful not to choke on the coffee grounds Our journey back to Athens started smoothly. We managed to catch the bus back to the new town and navigate our way across the town to the train station, all on time to catch the 16.14 train back to the capital. Unfortunately, when we were about 15 minutes away from Athens, something went wrong with our train. We left a station, slowed down, reversed back to the platform, then proceeded to sit there for over an hour. The announcements about what was happening were only in Greek, so it was one of those times when you really wish you could speak a language! Lots of people were getting off the train and staring at something, so I'm guessing either the train had broken down and someone was trying to repair it, or something had happened to the track which needed to be fixed/cleared before we could move on. It took an awfully long time anyway, so it was nearly 7pm by the time we finally got back to the apartment. It was a good day though - Corinth was beautiful and we managed to cope without needing a taxi Tomorrow we will be picking up a rental car and saying goodbye to Athens, as we head to our next destination: Olympia.
  4. Clare

    Day 3: Athens

    Today was our second day of exploring Athens. We woke up to another bright blue sky and warm sunny day, although the woman we saw wearing a coat, scarf and Ugg boots not far from our apartment appeared to disagree! Our destination for this morning was Mount Lycabettus, which we'd seen from the Acropolis yesterday. Our thinking was that if we could see the hill from the Acropolis, we ought to be able to see the Acropolis from the hill I'd seen in the guidebook that there was a funicular up the hill, which suggested that there ought to be good views at the top. The only challenge was finding the funicular station, which necessitated quite a lot of walking uphill on small side streets. We did pass a pretty church on the way, though. The funicular cost €7.50 each for a return ticket. I think it only runs once every half hour, but we were lucky and arrived a few minutes before one was due to depart, so didn't have to wait long. It wasn't the most exciting of funicular rides, as the whole journey was within a dark tunnel, but it was also quite short. We soon arrived at the summit and climbed a series of staircases to get to the viewpoint. From up here, Athens looked even more enormous than from the Acropolis! There is only one corner of the viewing gallery that you can see the Acropolis from, so we had to wait a while before we could get round to that side. Once we did, it was a great view As well as an expensive restaurant, there's also a small chapel on the top of the hill. To try and get away from the people, we followed a path around the side of the hill. We turned a corner and suddenly had an unobstructed view of the Parthenon It was much quieter here and there was plenty of space to enjoy the views. There were also some pretty cactuses growing along the hillside. The path down seemed pretty easy, so we decided to walk back into Athens rather than using our return tickets on the funicular. The views of the Parthenon got a little bit clearer as we got lower. Although it was a pleasant walk down, I think it would have been exhausting walking up here in the heat, so the funicular was definitely worth it in one direction at least. Once we were back down in the centre of Athens, our next stop was the large park we had seen marked on our pop-out map. The park is called the "National Garden", which makes it sound rather grand, but it turned out to mostly be woodland. We did find an extremely large cactus... ...and at one point when we were walking through the trees, I looked up and realised they were full of green birds. There were ancient ruins marked on the map, but they turned out to be not quite as impressive as the ones we'd seen yesterday As we left the park, we found this little pool full of turtles, which was rather surprising! We crossed a road and ended up in a slightly grander bit of the park. The park eventually came to an end by this enormous building, which is a conference and exhibition centre. As we came out onto the main road, we could just see up to the Parthenon. We passed Hadrian's Arch... ...and began wandering around the streets, looking for a likely place to get food. We found a nice restaurant before too long, in the part of town where we had eaten yesterday. I had grilled chicken and rice, while Tim tried something called souvlaki, which turned out to be pieces of chicken on a stick. Both were tasty, and a friendly Belgian man at the next table told us that we could ask for a carafe of wine for €7 (the menu only listed expensive bottles!). Once we'd finished eating, there was time for a bit more exploring. We found what looked like some more Roman remains... ...as well as some more churches. This one had a beautiful painted roof All in all we've had another fun day exploring Athens Tomorrow we're going to brave the Greek public transport system in an attempt to visit Corinth!
  5. Clare

    Day 2: Athens

    We were quite tired after yesterday's long day of travelling, so we didn't make a terribly early start to today. By the time we left the apartment, it was nearly 10am and already a bright sunny day. It felt like it was beautifully warm to us, although the some of the people of Athens seemed to disagree and we passed multiple people wearing jeans and coats as we began to make our way towards the centre! We didn't have to go far from our apartment before we found the church of St Constantine. We were walking towards Syntagma Square, which is the main square in Athens. As we were walking along one of the main streets in that direction, we caught sight of a very impressive-looking building on the opposite side of the road. This is the academy of Athens; Greece's most important research centre. Some of the buildings are very grand! We kept walking, somehow managing to miss Syntagma Square (it was a bit confusing, because there was some sort of race going on!) and unexpectedly found ourselves outside Hadrian's Arch, which was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman emperor Hadrian in Athens around 132 AD. When we turned around and looked up the side street we were standing beside, we got our first view of the Acropolis. It looked a long way up! The view helped us to orientate ourselves and it didn't take long before we found the entrance to the Acropolis slopes. I'd bought our tickets in advance online (€20 each), which was great because it meant we didn't have to queue. The guidebook said that you could spend several hours queuing for tickets in the summer and although the queue didn't look that long today, it also looked like it was moving pretty slowly. Once we were inside the grounds, the climb didn't look quite so daunting. The tickets included a map, which numbered and labelled the different sights. The first one we came to was helpfully called "shed of exhibits" Things got a bit more exciting after that, as we started walking around the grounds. We passed piles of stones and pillars... ...before arriving at what looked like a huge amphitheatre. This is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161 AD and used as a venue for music concerts. It was restored in the 1950s, so the seating is all rather new. We'd climbed a fair way uphill by this point, so as we looked out over the theatre we started to get a sense of how big Athens is. The Acropolis had been quite quiet up to this point, but once we passed the theatre we got caught up in a bottleneck of tour groups. This was the Propylaea, the ancient gateway into the Acropolis. It's a bit difficult to see because of the crowds, but there is a series of quite slippery steps leading up here. You had to be careful not to get jostled off by people! Once we got up the steps and started walking through, it was a bit more peaceful and we got a glimpse of the temple of Athena Nike. Finally we were at the top, and we could see for miles. If you look carefully in this photo, you should be able to make out the sea! We walked along the edge of the wall which we'd seen from a distance. All the rocks and pillars looked a very long way below us now. After a while I realised we could see Hadrian's Arch which we'd passed earlier, and what looked like the remains of a Roman forum behind it. The best view was when we turned around though and saw the Parthenon for the first time Restoration works are still ongoing, so there is a fair amount of scaffolding and even some cranes, but it's still really beautiful. The big hole in this side of the structure was caused by the Venetians in 1687, who were bombarding Athens as part of a war against the Ottomans and accidentally ignited a pile of Ottoman ammunition which was being stored inside the building, resulting in a huge explosion. Most of the sculptures which survived the explosion were then removed by Elgin in the early nineteenth century. As we walked around the Parthenon we found a stone with some Greek inscription on it, but unfortunately we have no idea what it says! I also have no idea what I was doing in this photo, which otherwise would have been a great view Luckily there was also a great view from the other side, and I managed not to do anything weird in this photo At the far end of the Acropolis is a viewpoint with a huge Greek flag. There wasn't really enough wind to see it properly today. There was also a view of Mount Lycabettus, which is the highest point in Athens. The Parthenon isn't the only impressive building on the top of the Acropolis. This is the Erechtheion, an ancient Greek temple which was dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. The temple is best known for the Porch of the Caryatids. The statues which you can see today aren't the real ones; one of them was removed by Elgin, so is now in the British Museum, and the other five have been moved to the Acropolis museum for safekeeping. The restoration has been done very well - I wouldn't have known they were replicas if I hadn't read it in the guidebook! We just had time for a last look at the Parthenon... ...and then it was time to head back out through the gateway. Thankfully the steps were slightly less of a crush this time around! We soon found a sign for the exit, which is one of the few Greek words we have learned so far: Exodus. We wandered around the slopes a little bit more, before making our way out. As soon as we left the Acropolis, we came to a small rocky outcrop with steps carved into it. It was slightly challenging to climb up because the rock was very slippery. Once we made it to the top, there were some great views back to where we'd been though Thankfully there was a less slippy staircase to climb back down! We were well overdue some food by this point, so we started trying to find our way towards a part of Athens where there might be restaurants. On the way we passed this beautiful little church, which reminded me of some we'd seen in Macedonia a few years ago. Before long we found a nice place to eat, with a roof terrace from where I could see the flag on the top of the Acropolis Tim opted what was described as "kebab" and turned out to be suspiciously like Croatian ćevapčići. I played it safe and had spaghetti bolognese. Can you work out which words are "kebab" and "bolognese" on this receipt?! (Clue - in Greek, the sound "b" is represented by the letters "m" and "p" together). When we'd finished eating we strolled back through the side streets and Tim navigated us so that we came down to Hadrian's Arch once again. From here we were able to get a better view of the Roman forum. As we started to walk back in the direction of the apartment, we tried to pay more attention so that we didn't miss Syntagma Square this time around. We did find it, but it turned out not to be terribly impressive. This building, which we hadn't paid much attention to when we first walked past, is actually the Greek parliament! We were quite tired by this point, so headed back to the apartment where we enjoyed the airconditioning and I had a bit of a siesta If it's this warm in October, it must be unbearably hot here in July and August! We've had a great day and it was definitely worth €20 to see the Parthenon
  6. Clare

    Day 1: Home to Athens

    I put a lot of effort into planning our trip around Iceland... so much so that I didn't have much holiday-planning time/energy left to research Greece in quite so much detail! Greece is not a country which has ever been at the top of our list of places we wanted to visit, but I had a week of holiday to take in October this year, and thought we might appreciate going somewhere warm and sunny after a potentially cold and wet trip to Iceland. There aren't many places which are reliably warm and sunny in October, but Greece looked like it might fit the bill. The only problem was that I didn't wanted to end up stuck in a beach resort... but when Tim found that Bradt have published a guidebook to the Peloponnese, we realised that it would be possible to plan a holiday which involved visiting some of the historic sites of ancient Greece. That sounded like our sort of holiday, and when we realised that there were reasonably-priced flights from Heathrow, a loose sort of plan started to come together When I started trying to plan our itinerary in more detail, I began to run into problems though! The Bradt guide is really good, but a lot of it is written on the assumption that you have a car. We have a copy of the Rough Guide to Greece as well, but it's an edition that was published before the worst of the financial crisis, and so its section on public transport refers to how easy it is to get between two places by train... but when you check the actual Greek train website, you find out that trains are no longer running on that particular route. There is a network of buses across Greece but it seems to be set up in a very confusing way; each region has its own bus website, so you have to work out which jurisdiction your route falls into before you can even start to look for a timetable. Some of the bus websites have timetables in English, but some of them don't... some of the websites give the prices for tickets, other websites don't.... It probably all makes perfect sense if you speak Greek, but we are still trying to master the alphabet so it felt like very hard work! In the end we decided to admit defeat and hire a car for the second half of our trip, once we leave Athens Anyway, today was all about travelling to Athens and although our flight wasn't until 12.15, the fact that it was from Heathrow meant that we had to leave home around 07.30. The journey to the airport all went like clockwork and we even managed to successfully use the self-service baggage machines. It was once the machine had finished printing our baggage labels, that it suddenly flashed up on the screen a message to say that our flight was going to be delayed. Oh dear! Initially it didn't seem like it was going to be a terribly long delay and we were told that take-off would be at 12.50, with gate information at 11.55. We had a late breakfast at the airport, then checked the info boards to find that gate information was now coming at 12.15. 12.15 came and went with no gate information... We did eventually get a gate and were herded into a queuing area, which seemed promising, but then we were left to stand there for a long time for no clear reason. By the time we got on the plane, we were running about an hour late and by the time the plane actually took off, we were nearly two hours late! The reason for the delay was apparently the weather at Heathrow, which felt like a pretty poor excuse. It was a bit rainy and cloudy, but I would imagine the percentage of days on which it is rainy and cloudy at Heathrow must be pretty high The delay was frustrating, because it was already quite a long flight (around 3.5 hours) and there is a two-hour time difference between Greece and the UK. When the flight was scheduled to depart at 12.15, it was due to land in Athens at 17.50, so a two-hour delay would probably mean it was dark by the time we arrived, as well as meaning that we definitely weren't going to be checking into our apartment at the time I'd prearranged with the owner Apart from the delay, the flight was excellent though. We were flying with Aegean, which is not an airline I'd ever heard of before to be honest, so I didn't really know what to expect. I can confirm that the service is definitely a lot better than Ryanair There were three separate trolley services, with the first one serving free soft drinks, the second one providing free food and alcohol, and the third serving free tea and coffee! I am generally quite excited if I get a free bread roll on a plane, so this rather surpassed my expectations! Not only did we get a bread roll, there was also a triangle of some Greek variation on the theme of Dairylea, a packet containing two chocolate digestives, and a very hot foil container with an actual meal in it (pieces of chicken with something that tasted very similar to Ebly wheat, although it was a slightly different shape). I also received a tub of salad, which I ignored, and a small bottle of wine, while Tim got a can of Greek beer. The plane itself wasn't quite as posh as Icelandair, but there were some screens which gave us an indication of where we were flying. It was cloudy for a lot of the route but cleared up for a while as we flew down the Croatian coast, so I was able to see Zadar and a lot of the more northern islands. It was cloudy again as we flew over Split and Dubrovnik, but brightened up by the time we got to Albania and began to head inland. We flew over some really spectacular mountains, past two huge lakes (one of which I think must have been Lake Ohrid on the Albanian/Macedonian border) and then finally began to fly down across Greece towards Athens. From the glimpse we got of Athens as we were coming in to land, it is absolutely huge! We made up a bit of time while we were flying, but it was still around 19.30 by the time we were getting off the plane and then we had a bit of a wait for our luggage. Athens airport is a fair way outside of the centre of Athens and the easiest way to get into the main city seems to be by metro. There are only two metros an hour, so by the time we'd reclaimed our baggage we had to wait for the 20.30 one, and the tickets cost €10 each. Normal metro tickets are only €1.40, but there's a special inflated price for journeys which begin/end at the airport! It was a nice train when it arrived and one of the few airport metros I've ever been on that had a proper baggage rack for big suitcases We were on the first metro for about 45 minutes, which was the time it took us to get to Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens. From there, we had to change to a different metro line for three stops. The apartment we're staying in is just across the road from the exit to a metro station on this other line, so thankfully it was very easy to find the correct building once we eventually arrived The apartment is really lovely. We've got a nice living room... ...a well-equipped kitchen... ...and two bedrooms in case we fall out with each other After Iceland, it feels like a lot of space at a very reasonable price; about £60 per night It's been a long day but it's good to finally be here, and we're looking forward to actually seeing some of Athens tomorrow!
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