March 29, 2016: Athens and the Acropolis

Our alarm this morning was for about five.  The ship was set to dock at six in Pireas, the port of Athens.  The cell phone was working from the moment that I woke up so I have no idea when, if ever, it cut off during the night.  Coming into port the ferry goes along the shore slowly for a very long time so we could see the lights of mainland Greece going by all morning.

At the port we got to see the migrant refugee camp there. This is the very first that we have seen first hand anything of the migrant crisis here in Europe.  People ask us about that all of the time but Crete is not a part of the trail from Turkey to the EU so we have seen nothing of it.  But this was a small but real camp (and one that a few days later would make international news as a riot broke on there on the first of April while we were in Romania.)

Once into the port we took our time getting out of the room so that we were not caught in the throngs of people pushing to get out quickly (which, if I am not careful, is always Dominica who is impatient by nature with these things.)  We turned in our room key at reception and went down and collected our luggage.

This was the first that I really got to see how many full size trucks were on the ferry.  Now the ferry schedule and size makes sense to me.  The ferry is used as the main cargo ship going to and from Crete.  Because the ferry handles so much cargo there is little or no need for traditional cargo ships to go to the island(s) but they are still able to ship fresh produce to and from daily.

We managed to get a taxi that squeezed us all in.  Taxis in Athens are not large because the streets are so small is so many places that they cannot be.  He had to do a lot of magic with bungee cords and most of our luggage was pretty precariously hung out the back of the trunk but it did just fine.  The trip from the ferry port to our small hotel near the Acropolis was about forty minutes.  The driver had some difficulty finding the hotel as it is a small one on a very small street.  It was on a little dead end, actually, which made it extra hard.

It was seven in the morning when we got dropped off outside of the Marble House in Athens.  The front desk did not open until eight, which we knew, so we had planned on just sitting out front until they arrived.  Being on a dead end street made this very easy as they had a few cafe tables and chairs in front and were the last building on the street so we could just put all of our luggage by the tables and sit there out of sight and out of the way.  It worked out perfectly.  (We actually could have gone inside, Dominica forgot that we had been told of a way to sit in the lobby until the desk staff arrived and so we sat out in the chill morning air for a while.)

While we were waiting I went off in search of some breakfast.  I found a little coffee place around the corner that had coffee and traditional Greek breakfast pastries.  I grabbed one spinach pastry and one potato one and two coffees and returned to the Marble House.  The food was delicious – the best that we have had in Greece of this type of pastry, the girls declined to eat anything as they often do.  They sat on our laps covered in blankets to stay warm until the staff arrived at eight and we moved the luggage into the lobby.

Our room, number twelve, was on the second floor up a long flight of stairs.  The room was big and nice but we had to share the bathroom with one other room.  We hate sharing bathrooms, especially when we are on a tight schedule.  Sometimes it works out fine, sometimes it is a major problem.  Our room even had a nice balcony.  The room was not actually ready for us yet, but it was empty so they let us move the luggage up and drop everything off so that we could set out to see Athens as we are in a time crunch.

It was easily before nine in the morning when we set off on foot to head to the Acropolis, our number one sight to see in Athens.  It is a short, but uphill, walk from the Marble House to the Acropolis so was a little tiring with the girls in tow.

We went by a little coffee and sandwich shop and the girls demanded that we go in for sandwiches.  We wanted coffee so were okay with the stop.  Of course Luciana wanted just cheese and mayo.  Liesl wanted something without cheese, loaded with veggies and lots of mayo.  The two of them have different parts of my tastes in sandwiches, it is very funny.  I like my sandwiches with cheese, loads of veggies and mayo.  The mayo is the unifying component.

We finished up the walk and arrived at the Acropolis.  It’s not very expensive to get in, but even off season early in the morning it is pretty crowded.  We were not as early as we should have been, we should have pushed hard and gotten here at eight thirty, it was likely ten now and school groups were coming in by bus constantly.  It’s an insanely popular thing to go see, of course.  But we still go there when there was only a light crowd compared to the normal, which was good.

The hike up to the hill is not a minor one and the rocks are very slippery.  It was a hard walk for the girls but we made it up and, of course, the Acropolis was spectacular.  There is really nothing like it anywhere.  The buildings themselves are just amazing, but the view is really something too being on a high hill in the centre of Athens which is a massive, sprawling metropolis of just over three million.

We took a bit of time to walk around, take pictures, let the girls rest for a while.  The centre of the Acropolis is actually empty and there was plenty of space to get out of the way and relax.  It made it easier to take in the immensity of the place.  We are so glad that we managed to come here.  This is one of those top life bucket list locations but is still so easy to miss.

We did not actually stay long.  There is actually nothing to do on the Acropolis.  There are a few buildings, some amazing views and that is it.  You cannot go into anything and they need to move people through so nothing has been added.  It is purely a small archaeological site and nothing more.  So impressive, but does not require even an hour and that’s if you linger extensively.

We left the Acropolis and went along the Agora but there was little to see there and we got dumped into a side street in Athens a long way from the hotel which is on the other side of the hill.  So we skirted the hill with the GPS not working making it frustrating.  We were in a tourist area, of course, being near the Acropolis and we stumbled on the Hard Rock Cafe so Dominica ran in and bought a pin for Rich who collects those.  This, like Oslo, is a tough one to get.

We did a bit of a walk and found a pedestrian way.  We went down there and stopped midway and got gelato which was very good.  The tourist area of Athens is full of street hawkers which is incredibly annoying and makes you want to immediately leave. I suggest that Greece look into a tourist police system like Morocco and start cleaning things up because while Athens has some of the most amazing historical sites in the world, the street hawkers make the atmosphere horrible and make Athens only viable as an educational stop and no fun as a place to visit on its own.  The whole thing is too close to Venice with its “all for show” mentality and everything made in China and the whole thing just put on for the tourists.

On the way back we came to Syntagma Square, the famous main square of Athens, and there we managed to pick up the bus for the City SightSeeing Tour which we had wanted to do.  This meant no more walking for a while and a chance to see the bulk of the city.  We always do these tours when we are in a city like this, especially if our time is limited.  They are a good deal, provide transportation and let us make sure not to miss any of the big things.

We all appreciated the ride and the girls slept for a lot of it.  It was bright and sunny and warm.  I even dosed off for a few minutes.

The tour was nice and once we were back on Syntagma Square we decided to hit the McDonald’s there because it was close and easy, literally right at the stop, and because they have the Eastern Orthodox Lent menu there that is totally unique to this region and we have to try it.  I know how awful it is to eat at McDonald’s when in Europe, trust me I know, but this is our first of doing anything of the sort while in Europe (and we’ve been here a full three months) and this is for a special reason.  We really wanted to know what the lent menu was like!  Our entire meal was stuff we have never had nor even seen in America (or anywhere, for that matter.)  Eastern Orthodoxy takes Lent so much more seriously than any other Christian sect and does full vegetarian for over a month, so it is a big deal to cater to that.

Dominica got a shrimp salad, Liesl and Luciana each got an order of just shrimp and I went for a veggie burger (no kidding, they actually had this) and we all split some veggie bites.  This was rather a serious McDonald’s food adventure.

All of the food was okay but really was not very good.  One of the biggest issues was that all of the sauces were wrong.  Liesl got nothing to dunk her shrimp in at all, Luciana got sweet and sour sauce which was a good choice but not something that the girls like.  Dominica’s salad had something akin to a French dressing which wasn’t very good, but she thinks that it would have been good if they had had ranch, which is how this would have been served in the US.  My burger lacked anything but ketchup, I think, and should have had Big Mac sauce and cheese and it might have been decent.  The veggie bites also came with nothing.  McDonald’s food depends on the dipping sauces to be good so this was pretty bland.   Had we spoke Greek we could have discussed that stuff when we ordered but we had to take the defaults and they were not good at all.

From the McDonald’s on Syntagma we were able to jump onto the City SightSeeing bus again and ride it a few stops up to the stop near the New Acropolis Museum which was just above our hotel and walk down from there very easily.  Everyone was tired at this point between the ferry, taxi, hotel, walking, sight seeing, more sun and food that we decided that it was time to call it a day.  We have a busy few days coming up and we cannot be burning ourselves out all at once.  The girls really wanted to just relax in the hotel and play with their toys and use their Kindle Fires.  So that is what we did.

While the family was relaxing in the hotel as there was nothing else to do I went out for a walk to see a little of the city.  The area that we were in was not super conducive to walking but I was about to see some amount of stuff.

After relaxing for a while I got sent out to look for food.  No one felt like leaving again, they were all tired.  So I walked around for a while figuring out what the local options were.  We ended up settling on a pizza which I picked up and delivered back to the Marble House.

It was pretty much straight to bed after dinner for us.