published: (updated: )
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
blog personal travel
After my stay in Crete, which lasted for 7 days, I was in Athens for 5 days. Athens airport is about an hour away from the city centre, and getting there is easier with the train. Unfortunately for me, the trains were not operating when I arrived. I had to take an especially crowded bus to the city centre, packed in amongst other people going from the airport. My destination was Syntama Square, which was the last stop for the bus. After reaching, my hostel was only a short walk away.
I stayed in the "Students and Travelers Inn" hostel situated in the Plaka, which is the old historical neighbourhood situated around the Acropolis. Just like living in Temple Bar in Dublin. The hostel had the bare minimum in terms of ameneties. Its only good thing was being situated in an old historical building. There were narrow winding stairs to get upstairs. Breakfast was not included. And due to it being Athens, the rooms were inundated with other tourists, some of which were very annoying. Bathrooms (showers and toilets) were cleaned regularly, but some people liked to keep them messy for some reason. All in all, the hostel was an experience of living in old buildings in Athens. Wouldn't recommend it though.
Getting this out of the way - everyone goes to see the Acropolis in Athens. It's super crowded. There are queues. And though the place is huge, it is immensely touristy. Instead, most of my focus was on other, less popular, destinations. I went to the acropolis on one fine morning, stayed up there enough to view the city from all sides of the hill, and was down soon enough.
The acropolis itself is an old structure, some of pillars having fallen, others being repaired. It is immense, the marble there splendid. What glory it must have been to see in its hayday. The scale and skill are both impressive. There are other smaller structures and places to see and visit all around the hill the acropolis is situated on. One of the better things I found in Greece was drinking water at the top. Straight off the tap, safe to drink, nice and cool.
Greece has a lot of museums, which is good, because it has a long and interesting history. The ones I visited are the National Archaelogical museum, Acropolis Museum, Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art, Blank Wall Gallery, National Historical Museum, Museum of Ancient Greek Technology, Byzantine Museum, and War Museum.
Phew! That's a lot of museums! And these are maybe the popular half of all museums in the city. If pressed for time, I absolutely recommend going to the National Archaelogical, Benaki, and National Historical Museums. They are amazing.
Greece has lots of parks everywhere. They are well laid out, always clean, and safe. Once can idle about, sit in the shade, or have a quick nap. I did all three. I also spent a few hours reading a book under an ancient tree. It felt quite good to sit under the cool shade while the sun was strong but not scalding. The Acropolis especially has lots of parks surrounding it.
Monastiraki Flea Market
Athens has a famous flea market called Monastiraki, which is a short walk away from the Acropolis. The flea market is an array of stalls, or a long line of stalls, or an area filled with small shops, whatever description gets it. In my head, the description for a flea market was something more basic, and more un-civilised. Instead, I had to walk around for a bit until I realised that this was the flea market. The shops are well set-up, have a proper roof, everything like a normal shop would. Except that they sell these novelty like items. I wasn't interested in any of them, but I can imagine some people having a shopping stroll through the area.
Now to the main part of being in Greece - the food. Everything feels fresh, and it affects the taste a lot. Most important are the salads, fish, and cheese. These I ate in bountiful proportions. I had so much food everyday, and even when it was the same thing, even salads, I enjoyed it quite a lot. The most common thing to eat is the salads - the typical greek salads has a good mix of ingredients. Depending on what you have, you can select different types of salads. I went mostly for salads with cheese (feta!) and fish (always fresh!). For lunch, there was an abundance of options, but my preference was always towards greek delicacies such as fresh fish. I even tried octopus and squids, which were amazing. The map shows the places where I ate, and recommend others to do indulge in as well.
There is a lot of street foods. My favourite amongst these were the Gyros. They are cheap, simple, and very filling. I went to the famous place(s) in the city, where there was quite a queue, and had these simple yet tasty delicacies. Along with these, there are lots of options for dessert as well. Being from India, these were much closer to what I have experienced in India as well as clear inspirations and influences from Turkey. All in all, the trip in terms of food was an experience by itself.
Crete is a Greek island in the Mediterranean sea. Being away from the mainland, it is cooler and gets the fresh(-er) sea air. The main cities are Heraklion in center-right and Chania (pronounced Hania) in the west. Heraklion has more older structures whereas Chania is surrounded by amazing beaches. The food of the island is still Greek, but has its own distinctive style and texture. It is referred to as Cretan, and consists of local fish and bread. I was there for the ESWC conference, and have written about my experiences in a separate post.