# trip to athens
05/31/03 – 06/01/03
our trip to athens was quite a long one. by the end we were up for over 24 hours straight, and had not seen a dark sky the whole time.
it began with a long line at check-in, followed by an even longer line for security, in all it took us almost two hours to get through it all. then we were on the plane, and it is a packed flight, which means for 10 hours we were stuck in the same seats without very much room to move. also this flight flew close enough to the pole that we completely missed any night sky.
we then landed in frankfurt where we had a three hour lay-over. we passed the time by exploring the airport and flipping through magazines we can’t read (’cause there in german…). we did have a bit of luck in that before hand i had found out that frankfurt airport was testing out using a wireless hotspot, so we headed over to gate A26, and we were able to send out a few messages, and check our email a bit. unfortunately i left my power outlet plug converter in one of the bags we checked in so the fun only lasted as long as my battery, which is about an hour.
the one bummer about frankfurt airport was that when we went through passport control the guy must have seen my old vienna stamp, and thought it was the frankfurt stamp (they look very a like) so he just handed it back to me. i didn’t notice but angela did, and she later mentioned it. it’s no big deal, but when you are on travel it is nice to look back at the stamps you’ve collected in your passport, i’ll make sure he stamps it on the way back. there also wasn’t anyone stamping things when we arrived in greece. also no customs the whole way which was nice.
another line got us out of frankfurt, and this time the plane wasn’t so packed, but it was another three hours of flying time. the one good thing about all that travel time was that it gave us a good deal of time to learn a bit of greek, which is not an easy language. i took pictures of the meals we got on that flight [ 1 , 2 ] (i forgot to on the other flight), so i can send them into airlinemeals.net .
after we landed we had been awake for over 24 hours, and we were very tired. getting our bags took forever. we only got one bag off of the carousel, the other we had to go claim as lost, that is until it magically showed up. there were about ten other people waiting in the lost baggage claim too, i can’t say whether that is just coincidence or a pattern.
we then bought a ticket for the bus, and waited not too long. all the travel guides said that the airport taxis are a difficult mode of transportation. they are hard to catch, and their meters rarely work, or if they do, they have been tampered with. so it is adviseable to come to an agreement on the trip price before hand. i was in no mood to deal with any of that so we opted for the bus.
the bus was cheap and efficient, although i noticed if you wanted to go anywhere besides the default Syntagma stop you had to know where you were going, because the driver never mentioned any stops.
we finally arrived at our bus stop, and again we could have taken a cab, but the same warnings that apply to airport taxis apply to the in city taxis. so we headed toward the metro. the metro is athens’ version of ‘the tube’ in london, or the u-bahn in vienna. we got lucky in that the way we started to go when we got off the bus was the right one to get to the metro stop. after we had found the metro my experience in the london underground and the vienna u-bahn helped greatly as i was able to navigate the subterranean maze with ease. another nice thing about taking the bus from the airport is the ticket you buy, (and must validate in the little red box on the bus) also serves as your ticket on all other public transportation for 24 hours.
once we popped out of the metro we were rather disoriented, and it took us a bit to figure out where on the map we were. once we did so we forged off, our rolling luggage in tow. let me take this time to note that all of athens that we have seen so far seems to be in a state of repair. i’m guessing this is in sight of the 2004 olympic games that are to be held here. this however makes dragging luggage through the streets, and there foot deep pot-holes a bit difficult.
we then navigated the streets to our hotel. navigating those streets had me wondering whether we should have taken a cab. it was also sunday, which seems to be a pretty busy time down in the Plaka district, not a good time to be wondering around with your bags looking for your hotel, as the streets are crowded. we found our hotel, thanks very much to my excellent navigation skills…
once we checked in we had more trouble. i had requested a third floor room with a garden veranda, and had also brought with me the email confirmation about this. what we got when we got there was a first floor room, without a garden veranda.
seeing my wife disapointed on our honeymoon was too much. i went down there with the email confirmation and showed him that we should have been in a different room. he was very kind, but said he couldn’t do anything for me, as all the rooms were booked. he did however suggest i talk to his ‘colleague’ tomorrow, and maybe he can do something about it.
we then ate at a nice restaurant called hermion. my spaghetti bolognese tasted like it had cardamom in it, which was interesting. angela’s potatoes were very good, they seem to do potatoes well. i had a nice glass of wine with dinner which successfully knocked me out for the night. needless to say with a full belly and no sleep for 24 hours we slept well that night.
# athens day 1
after a much needed rest we ate breakfast on the roof of our hotel where one can get an excellent view of the acropolis, and the rest of athens. the breakfast is self service, and consists mostly of breads and cereals, although they do bring out a tasty glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.
the shower in our room was weird. it was a detachable shower head, but where the head rested was too low to be of any use, so one of us had to hold it while the other bathed, also the tub was so narrow that passing by one another in it could prove dangerous. also in the bathroom were two toilets, one a western style, the other a squat toilet, i never really figured out why the squat toilet had hot and cold knobs. also apparently the pipes in athens are very narrow so that they cannot handle very much toilet paper, this means flushing several times to be sure not to clog anything up.
after breakfast i went down and again complained about our room. this time i must have been talking to someone in charge because he was able to change our rooms. although we would not be able to change until the next day, which was fine by us, because at least then we would get the room we wanted.
we then spent a little bit of time exploring the surrounding area called plaka. there are many little souvenir shops, most of them down narrow alley ways with cobble stone roads. speaking of roads, one has to watch out on the roads around plaka, as cars and motor bikes still zoom down them, even though the streets are teeming with people.
after walking around in that warm sun, we headed back to the hotel, and slept right through lunch and on until the evening time. in fact we slept so late we didn’t even get out to dinner until 10 at night. but then taking an afternoon nap, and eating late is the way the greeks do it, so we were fitting right in.
for dinner we headed off to a restaurant recommended in our travel book called eden. in athens people stand outside of the restaurants trying to woo people to come in and eat. one such guy asked us where we were from in an attempt to get us to come in, after telling him he pulled out his california drivers license and said he used to live in san francisco. i got the feeling he had a drivers license for just about every state. eden resteraunt was nice although they rushed us a bit to order, but that was because they were closing down in an hour, and the kitchen was closing soon.
eden is a vegetarian resteraunt, so angela got the potatoes au graton, and i got the quiche. both were very good although angela’s wasn’t as warm as she would have liked it. although my understanding is that the greeks don’t like to eat their food too hot as they think it is bad for the health.
# athens day 2
today we were finally fully rested from our journey here, and so after breakfast again on the roof we were ready to take on the sites of athens. unfortunately a lot of the sites in athens seem to be pretty disorganized, and not much of any kind of direction or instruction.
our first stop was the acropolis. for this we bought a 24 hour pass for the metro, which is the best deal as far as i can tell, because it lasts for a full 24 hours, and is valid for all forms of transportation in athens. the other options are far more complicated, taking into account what lines you want to travel, what time of day you want to do so, and are only good for one way, which means you have to try and figure it all out again for the way back.
the acropolis tickets were 12 euro, but what they don’t tell you is that you can use the tickets to get into other ancient areas, we had to figure that out for ourselves. let me take this time to comment on the people of athens. while i wouldn’t say they were rude (although angela would) i’d say they treat you like the stranger you are. so there isn’t a terrible amount of what we would call service here.
the acropolis is one of those things you have to see when you are in athens, and while it is an amazing piece of work, i can see why there are some athenians who have never taken the time to go see it. it is not the most exciting thing in the world to see.
we then saw the theater dionysus and the towers of zeus, both of which are as impressive as the acropolis, although they do lack the view one gets from the acropolis of the city of athens, smog and all.
on our way back to the metro we stopped in at a little cafe. angela got the moussaka, and i got the stuffed bell peppers. angela didn’t care too much for the moussaka, but i liked my peppers, the difference i tasted was that they put a bit of dill in the peppers. after we ate i thought i’d try a bit of what is called greek coffee. it is basically an espresso shot, but the beans are ground up very fine, i think one would call it a turkish grind, and then the grounds are left at the bottom of the cup. also they will ask you how sweet you would like it, i got medium sweet which was a good amount. the taste of the beans was certainly different, and the grounds in it made for a somewhat chewy experience.
the cafe had some deal with the souvenir shop next door, so that after dining you could get 10% off on purchases there. so angela and i went in, and she found a bronze statue of psioden that she liked. it was a nice piece of art, and not too pricey so we bought it.
we then stopped in a shop just outside of the acropoli metro stop. angela picked up a charm with the ‘evil eye’ on it, and some worry beads. ok so these two items need some explaining. the evil eye is a blue eye, that apparently wards off the envious glare of other people. the worry beads are something of a cultural icon in greece. we see mostly men with these varying length strands of beads. the men twirl and flip, or otherwise mess with these beads apparently in an attempt to keep their hands busy.
we then took the metro out to the local port in the town of piraeus, which is a long train ride of about 20-30 mins. through some pretty desolate and seedy streets. once we got off the train there wasn’t much direction as to where the port was, but we saw some boats off in the distance and headed that way. we walked around the different companies running ferries or other boats, asking for prices and info on boats to santorini, which is where we needed to go the next day. this is something we defiantly should have taken care of earlier, but we didn’t so we had to wing it. after booking our ticket on a slow ferry that leaves at 07:25 tomorrow we headed back to the hotel.
we cruised the shops of the plaka a bit more, but didn’t buy anything. we did however get a few supplies for the long boat journey (7hrs) tomorrow. apparently i can pull off the greek thing, as a lot of the people here seem to think i am greek. in one store we were in the lady said she didn’t know whether to say yasas or hola to me, meaning she didn’t know whether i was greek, or latin. we ate again at hermion, where the greeter was confused by me i guess because she started speaking spanish to us. angela got the rigatoni, and i got the lemon salmon, which i thought was very good, it had a nice lemon glaze on it, very tasty.
we then packed enough clothes and supplies for the both of us into the smaller of our two bags, so that we could leave the larger bag at the hotel in athens.
# sailing to santorini
today we arrived in santorini, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. although like most things in life that are worth having they take work, and it sure took some work getting here.
we left our hotel and 06:30 to catch our 07:25 ferry. however the metro ride that took us 20 mins yesterday took 30 mins today, so consequently we didn’t get to the port as early as we would have liked, so we didn’t get to grab any good seats. if we have to take the ferry back i will opt for the first class seats as they look way more comfortable, and if you are traveling for that long you need comfort.
some notables on the metro ride to piraeus: at 06:30 the train is packed with half asleep cranky greeks. let me tell you, you can see how hard the athenians party by catching them early in the morning, not a single wide eye in the house.
the ferry ride ended up being 8 hours instead of 7, but in either case it took a damn long time. traveling for that long by ferry though was much more comfortable than by plane for that long. at least on the boat we could walk around, and there were eateries, and the view of the sea and the islands we passed. we sat below deck for a good part of the trip, then when we hit the first port called naxos we headed up to the deck to grab some seats.
the deck gave the best view, but was also a lot warmer than down below, but we just read and hung out until finally we arrived in santorini. once we arrived there were throngs of people flooding out of the boat, and towards the taxis or buses. we grabbed a taxi, and ironically shared it with another young couple on their honeymoon. they were also from the states, charlotte north carolina to be exact.
we finally got into our hotel in fira (the capital of santorini) and it was awesome. it has a great view of the caldera, and of the city. also the location close to all the shops and restaurants is great too. we spent some time walking around the maze of shops and stopped in to get some sweets at one small little shop. this place is a lot more tourist centered than athens was. all the shop keepers immediately start speaking english as soon as you enter, and they act towards you more like how we are used to in the states.
this place though has the same problem with animals as did athens. there are quite a few cats roaming around, none of which look like they are pets, and a few dogs roaming around. actually in athens we saw small packs of 3 or so dogs roaming around. the real kicker is that the greeks will take care of the cats, leaving food out and what not, but totally disregard the dogs. it is really a sad situation, and i am thankful to live in a place that takes responsibility for its animals through places like humane societies.
but i digress. we had dinner at a great restaurant called ampelos. the view was great, the service was great, and the food was amazing. i got the faralle (sp?), and angela got the thai prawns. both dishes were very good, the thai dish was especially nice and spicy. afterwards when she brought us out the check, she brought us a taste of the famous santorini wine vinsante. it was sweet, and had a unique taste to it.
we headed back to the hotel and turned on one of the only english t.v. stations and fell asleep to a movie.
# santorini day 1
the hotel here serves breakfast as well, but it is a much richer breakfast than the one served by our athens hotel. the amazing view is a constant here in fira, and they brought us bacon and eggs, with sweet bread, and good thick pieces of toasted bread, and coffee. everything was very good, and apparently breakfast is 24hrs a day, just go down and ask and they will serve it to you. the coffee they brought out had that distinct greek taste, they must use different beans than what i am normally used to in the states.
we then hit up the shops more extensively, and saw some artwork we might go back and get. the streets really are like mazes, we found ourselves going down streets we had already been to a couple times. we of course stopped in a few times for coffee and sweets, and we are trying to find me some worry beads, but i haven’t seen anything that strikes my fancy yet.
i asked at the hotel desk about booking a return trip, and they said they could definitely take care of that for me, i’ll just have to tell them what day, and time. i’m sure they take a cut, and so it will be a bit more expensive, but it will be worth it, so i don’t have to hassle with trying to get down to the the port, and bargaining with the companies directly. actually i have no idea why our athens hotel wouldn’t do something like this, i gladly would have done that, rather than spend 30 mins to travel out to the port, and 20 mins walking around getting schedules and prices.
a bit of the disorganized theme is still here though. i asked about the bus schedule and she made me a copy of the one she had, but said that it sometimes changes daily so we should check it with them before we try to catch a bus.
i tell you the staff here is amazing, i asked where i could possibly buy a plug adaptor, as i didn’t think to get one before we left, and she let me borrow one of the hotels’. which has allowed me to power up the laptop and catch up on some of these journal entries.
the sun is especially strong here and we got angela some sun glasses, but just walking around in it all day can really tire you out, so we headed back to the hotel to nap a bit. now it is dinner time, midnight, and angela is still asleep, so i will have to try to wake her, and hopefully the restaurants will stay open a bit for us.
tomorrow we go for a boat ride around the island, which should be very cool.
# santorini day 2
today we got up a little bit early to catch our tour bus at 09:30. our first stop on the tour was the ancient ruins of akortiti. i can’t imagine taking this part of the tour without a guide, as the ruins are just that, and there are little to no signs explaining the things that you are seeing. another surprising thing was that the price of admission into the ruins was not included into the price of our tour package.
the next stop was the port of athinos where we caught a boat. now while most people had three parts to their tickets, a few (us included) only had two. the reason for the three parts as we found out was one gets collected at akortiti, the other when you get on the boat, and the third when you board the bus to get back to where you started. so i was little apprehensive getting on the boat, and giving the guy our last ticked already. i asked if we needed it for the bus to get back, and he said it would be all right. i am beginning to believe what i read in these books about how the greeks love chaos…
the boat ride was very nice and scenic. we visited the active volcano site, which turned out to be quite a hike indeed. then we visited thirassia where we had lunch (also not included). this part could have been cut short, as they gave us 2 hours on the island of thirassia, and there really isn’t anything on this island except for restaurants. then it was off to oia which is known for its beautiful sunsets.
here again we had to do quite a bit of hiking to get up to the top of the island from the port down below. the whole trip was far more exercise than what we were really looking for. once in oia we had to wander around until we found what we thought was the ‘best spot’ to see the sunset our guide on the boat had talked about. it turns out we guessed right, and the sunset did not disappoint it was quite amazing, and there were many people who turned out to see it.
after the sun went down at 20:40 it was a mad dash to find the bus turn around and our bus, which was scheduled to leave at 20:45. luckily we followed some people in our group that seemed to know where they were going. again pretty poor planning on the part of the tour company. but we did finally make it back to our hotel in fira, and after a quick shower to get off the grime from our long day (a 12 hour journey) we headed back to ampelos where the service and the food are both excellent. angela got the farfalle that i got last time because she liked mine so much, and i got the lobster spaghetti. all very good and well worth the cost.
we also booked our ferry boat back through our hotel. the staff here is amazing they are so helpful, and have been indispensable in our enjoyment of santorini. we ordered the tickets through the front desk at around 21:30 and by 22:00 they were down at the desk waiting for us. we had to get the slower ferry again because the faster ferry wasn’t leaving until afternoon, and wouldn’t arrive back at athens until the evening, where as the slower ferry left earlier and arrived earlier. this time we opted for the first class tickets, which were only a little bit more, but i am sure will be well worth it for such a long journey. i will still need to schedule a taxi pick up, but that should be done closer to departure time, so tomorrow evening was the suggestion from the front desk.
# santorini day 3
we slept in late today and had breakfast brought up to our room. today was our last day in santorini, and we took full advantage of the beautiful scenery and relaxing atmosphere.
we hit up a few shops and actually bought some pieces of art. they are pretty cool, and it is something to remember our trip to santorini. i also found some worry beads for me, or as they are called in greek kompoli, which i don’t think is an accident that it sounds like compulsive.
i had something called a cappuccino freddo, which was a coffee drink with some kind of sour cream on top, it was different, but nothing great [note: i later learned that the freddo part refers to the drink being cold.] . we also booked our taxi through irene, the receptionist at the hotel here, she has been so nice and helpful while we were here.
we were going to have dinner at a resteraunt called selene that our tour book recommended, but with menu items like stuffed pigeon (which we see everywhere here…) we didn’t find anything that appealed to us, so we ended up at calderimi an itialian resteraunt. they had really excellent food, i got the chicken russo, which was chicken in a dijon type mustard sauce with mushrooms it had a lot of really good flavor.
now it is time for bed to try and grab a few hours of sleep before we catch our early boat tomorrow morning.
# back to athens
well we are back in athens and it was another long boat ride. we have done entirely too much traveling this trip. we both agreed that if we ever come back to greece we would just skip athens, and head straight to santorini.
so we got on our boat and headed into the first class area, which is much more spacious and nicer than deck class. i tried another coffee drink this time cappuccino con panni, which seemed to basically be cappuccino with whipped cream on top, again nothing really special. later i got a cappuccino latte, which is kind of odd since really those are two separate drinks, its kind of like saying you want a ‘wine beer’, both have alcohol in them, but both are rather distinct drinks.
the boat ride was entirely too long. we figured we did about 48 hours of just traveling on this trip, far too much for a relaxing honeymoon. we eventually got back to the port of piraeus in athens, but purchasing tickets for the metro proved to be another task. none of the machines we tried worked and one just took our money. all the other travelers didn’t seem to be having any better luck, eventually we just went to the ticket agent, and bought two tickets that we needed.
getting back to the hotel was much easier this time, since we knew where the heck we were going, and it wasn’t the peak of the crowded sunday market time. we came back to the water in our room being yellow though. apparently there was some work being done on the pipes up the street, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do until they were done, or at least so says the hotel reception. so instead of showering right away we went out to eat at this trendy resteraunt close to the hotel called tepina. we got a cheese platter which was mighty impressive in size and variety. i got the salmon which came on a bed of wild rice and cooked spinach.
speaking of bed, the taxi is supposed to pick us up bright and early at 03:15 so time to catch some sleep before we have to get up for that.
# coming back home
riding the airport express back right now, it was another long travel day. we flew from athens to frankfurt, where we had a two hour layover, then we flew a long and crowded flight from frankfurt to san francisco. the plane was packed and it was an 11 hour flight, needless to say we are tired and in need of rest.
note: the athens airport had free wireless internet access. angela said people were looking at me oddly while i surfed.
the neat thing about that flight was that we sat next to a woman that also lives in sonoma county, so we got to swap stories and chat a bit, she was a real nice lady, which always makes spending 11 hours with someone in cramped quarters all the more bearable.
soon we will be home, looking forward to it, but i wonder how bad the jet lag will be, we didn’t sleep at all on the flight back either so we’ll have to see if that works to our advantage in re-setting our clocks to this time zone.