It’s been absolute ages, but final year has been crazy and I have had no time at all to update the blog. Fortunately, today I officially finished my degree, which means I now have time to inform you all of the amazing stuff I’ve done this past semester, aside from all the crazy work and deadlines.
So first up, many of you might know I decided to go to Athens on a solo trip for 4 days over the Easter break to meet up with my penpal Ioanna ( who I hadn’t seen since 2012), get some much needed sun and also explore a new city which had been on my bucket list for a while. It was my first time travelling solo to a country where I don’t speak the language, but I am proud of myself for booking the trip and taking on the challenge! And I had a great time!
Here’s a breakdown of what I got up to – I managed to do everything on my to-do list and at the end of the post you’ll find my personal faves, in case you decide to pay Athens a visit yourself! Enjoy!
I spent the first day (which was not really the first day), Monday the 2nd of April, travelling. It turns out Greece is quite a long way away… I was pretty nervous, but the trip was alright. Despite an hour delay on the flight from Bristol, the plane ride was fine. I was slightly thrown off by the fact that people spoke a language I couldn’t understand (the reality of being a language student lol), but I spent most of the flight relaxing and trying to get some sleep (after failing to do work and also realizing the only music I had to listen to was the Made in Dagenham soundtrack… #fail). Fortunately, getting from the airport to my hostel went quite smoothly. I always find arriving in a new place in the night time really strange and disconcerting since I have no references to work with – are there mountains? Are there towns or cities around Athens? All I could see out of the bus window was the highway… Eventually I arrived in Syntagma Square, which was the last stop. I used the X95 bus connecting the airport with Syntagma which is quite a cheap and easy way to get to and from. It worked really well and you can find all the info online! Don’t forget to scan your ticket when you get on (which you purchase from the stall by the stop). Good old Google maps helped me reach my hostel from the square. I stayed in Students and Travellers’ Inn in Plaka (booked through hostelworld). It was dead-centre in the old part of Athens and super close to all the places you’d want to visit, so if you are a young person, I’d definitely recommend. It was not the best hostel I’ve stayed in, with average facilities, but it was good enough! I was sharing a room with three other women who were all sleeping when I arrived, so after checking in I literally just crashed in bed.
DAY 1 – TUESDAY
Even though I’d planned on sleeping in for a while, I was woken up by my roommates early in the morning so I decided to make the most of it and start early. Breakfast wasn’t great, I’ll tell you that, so for the next few days I just snacked on some bananas and biscuits instead. I was meant to be meeting Ioanna that morning but she was running late, so I packed my bag and set out to explore on my own. Let me tell you, everything you’d want to see in Athens is super close together in the centre, so you can definitely walk everywhere (and the weather in April was warm and sunny but not too hot that it’d be tiring to be walking loads). Anyhow, in that morning, by just roaming around, I covered Plaka (the old district in Athens, which literally looks like a fake town built for tourism full of souvenir shops), Hadrian’s Arch, a few random orthodox churches (AMAZING inside, covered in gold mosaics), the change of guard by the Parliament, I dropped by the tourism office to grab some maps and info on museums, visited the Olympeion from outside, went into the National Gardens and the Zappeion. I loved the gardens; they weren’t particularly taken care of, but it was a lovely sunny day and my pale af person was just glad there was a piece of grass under the sun where I could sit (and also over 20ºC? What is this madness?), so it should not come as a surprise that I spent quite a long time chilling in the park and soaking in the sun. I also found a random quirky jewellery shop near Syntagma square and could not refrain myself from buying a pair of coin earrings…
I met Ioanna around 2pm in Syntagma Square, after observing how similar Greek and Spanish people are (like, the clothes they wear, the cadence of their speech, everything, it’s actually insane) and we headed towards Monastiraki to find Eva – Ioanna’s friend in Athens- so she could suggest a place for us to eat. We ended up having lunch by the Ancient Stoa, in a place called Antica restaurant. It was just one of the many restaurants along the side of the Ancient Agora, but the food was 10/10. We ordered Greek salad (my love), traditional meatballs (keftedes) and zucchini croquettes (kolokythokeftedes) – all absolutely delicious!
After that we took off again and walked by the Roman Agora through Plaka and onto the trio of the Library, Gallery and University. From there we walked up the stairs to get to the cable car to go up Lycabettus Hill. There are a lot of steps and you don’t actually need to get the cable car – you can simply walk up the path – but I’d walked so much that day the investment in the cable car ticket (5euro) was worth it. We got there around 5ish, so it was not too busy yet (the hill is a popular spot to watch the sun set over Athens, but we arrived slightly earlier so we enjoyed the place without itbeing too crowded yet still got to see the sunset – top tip!). I absolutely loved the views over Athens. I was surprised by how big the city is, how close it is to the sea, and the contrast between Ancient Athens and modern Athens, along with the different hills dotted around the city. It’s a bustling city but Lycabettus Hill was a lovely relaxed spot, away from the city noise. After that we walked down the hill and stopped by a supermarket to buy snacks. I was absolutely knackered so that was the end of the day for me – shower and dinner, short chat with roommate Charlotte from NZ- and off to sleep!
DAY 2- WEDNESDAY
Wednesday was my designated archaeological site day. In the morning I got up early to head to the Acropolis before it got too hot. Lucky for me, entrance was free for EU students (woop woop!) and I absolutely loved roaming around the ruins on my own. It was breathtakingly beautiful and incredible to think the buildings have been standing there for centuries! I started by Dionysius Theatre and made my way up by the Stoa and Herodes Atticus Odeon onto the Acropolis and Parthenon. By going early I managed to avoid the crowds, get some nice lighting (photo geek alert) and overall avoid getting (too) sunburnt! It was crazy to be walking by the Parthenon, which I studied back in high school. I’ve made it somewhat a personal challenge to visit irl all the works I had to study for my History of Art A-level Spanish equivalent and I have to say so far, so good! The temples are massive and the views of Athens from the hill are incredible too.
I then walked down and visited the Roman Agora and Tower of the Winds, along with the Ancient Agora, which holds the best preserved Ancient Greek temple, the Temple of Hephaestus which was pretty impressive. Overall, I’ve never seen such well-preserved ruins before. After the ruins I walked to Kerameikos which is the old city’s cemetery and roamed around there before returning to Monastiraki for lunch. Then I walked to Hadrian’s Library, which had some pretty cool mosaics, and to Olympeion. Sadly, it was already 3pm when I got there so it was closing for the day, which meant it got shifted back in my schedule. Most archaeological sites close at around 3pm, except the Acropolis, which is another reason why you should head out early if you’re planning to visit them all in a day. I nearly managed, but I think I misjudged my itinerary. Instead of the Olympeion, I decided to go to the Acropolis Museum. It was super interesting and I loved how the third floor is laid out as the Parthenon itself so that you can understand where the friezes fit in. Sadly, a lot of the original sculptures are in London (hurray for British colonialism…), but they have reproductions. I also loved the collection of Korai in the first floor and the videos about the restoration of the Caryatids, and they have archaeologists around too in case you have questions! And Eduroam, just putting that out there! Overall a pretty solid museum. After my visit I was starving so I decided to pick up some snacks at a supermarket and sit on a bench under the sun along the road bordering the Acropolis. I honestly had a lovely picnic, entertainment included as a girl set up her acrobatics number right opposite me. Simple picnics are the best. I was then exhausted from all the walking so I called it a day and retreated to my room, where I met Katy from the US who was pretty cool.
DAY 3 – THURSDAY
On Thursday morning I had a chat with Cass from Canada, the third roommate for the week. Then I got ready and headed out to explore. I started at the Olympeion, Zeus’ Temple, which was absolutely impressive. A lot of the structure is missing, but one of the corners of the temple still stands and it is grandiose. I then decided to walk to Aristotle’s’ Lyceum and stumbled upon the Stadium of the first modern Olympic Games on the way. The Lyceum was really interesting, mostly thanks to the information panels dotted around the site. I really enjoyed following the steps of Ancient Greek philosophers around the city, not going to lie… After the Lyceum I visited the Cycladic Art Museum which houses objects from the Cycladic islands. It was really interesting to see how the art from the different parts of Ancient Greece diverged. There was also an exhibition on the daily life of an Ancient Greek citizen and a really big collection of Cycladic figurines which I am sure Dad would’ve loved. By the time I finished at the museum I was starving, so I headed over to Greco near Syntagma and ate a whole Greek salad and chicken souvlaki by myself. I think the waiters were quite amazed that I managed to demolish all that food on my own because they gave me a complimentary brownie lol I then met up with Ioanna again and we went to Benaki Museum. I thought this one would house more statues, but the collection is quite broad and I particularly enjoyed the traditional costumes and exhibitions on the more recent history of Greece when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Pro tip, entrance is free on Thursdays! After that we took the metro to visit Plato’s Academy, but it was in the middle of nowhere and Ioanna had to go. To be fair, I didn’t feel too safe in that area walking on my own because it was the outskirts and not a great-looking neighbourhood, so I opted to take the metro back to the centre. Sometimes you have to put safety first and be flexible with your plans, particularly when travelling alone as a woman. So, instead I went to Monastiraki flea market. I really liked it, there was a really wide range of stuff sold: from antiques to souvenirs to all kinds of clothes. I ended up buying some harem pants and a top from a hippy shop, perfect for my summer interrail adventure! I then walked back to Plaka and had some baklava at a café enjoying the fresh air and sun, before grabbing some dinner and going back to the hostel. Not a bad day.
DAY 4 – FRIDAY
Friday was my last day in Athens, as I was flying out in the evening. I got up late and checked out of my hostel leaving my suitcase in the storage space they offered. Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken into account it was Orthodox Good Friday, so a lot of places were closed or had reduced opening times. This proved to be quite a challenge. I had initially planned on visiting the Jewish museums, but it turned out it was closed so instead I walked to the Acropolis to use some of that Eduroam from the Museum. I had a long chat with Sofía and Megs on the phone, while I figured out what to do. I was considering whether to go to the Archaeological museum but it meant taking the metro to Omonia which I had read was not a very safe area (and, to be honest, I felt I had had my fair share of ruins and ancient objects by that point). I ended up just roaming around the Acropolis. I met this weird man who I will name Modern Socrates, selling souvenirs and handing out leaflets on free links to information about Ancient philosophers in order to earn a living. He was quite a character and quite nice to chat to. Then I decided to go to Philopappus Hill, which I had seen from the Acropolis. I visited Socrates’ alleged prison, a house carved in the stone on the hillside, and then walked up to Philopappus Monument. The view of the Acropolis was amazing and the hike wasn’t too strenuous so I would definitely recommend going up during the day (however, be wary about going there during the night-time as many people have been mugged). On my way down from the monument I stopped by the church near the bottom of the hill and explored a few more spots like the Deaf Man’s Cave and the Seven Seats Plateau, which was actually a really peaceful place (it is quite unknown so not many people were walking around the area). I opted out from Pnyx Hill and headed towards Monastiraki going past a few more caves and sanctuaries along the way. I had lunch at Antica again (if it’s good, why not?), this time moussaka and grilled veggies, because I couldn’t leave Athens without having moussaka. It was a lovely way to round up my trip before swinging by the hostel to pick up my suitcase and make my way to the airport. I had quite a lot of time to spare before my flight, but that meant I wasn’t rushing around and there is nothing some Wi-Fi and a power socket can’t fix, right? The trip back was long and I arrived back in Bath at around midnight, but it was totally worth it. Four days well spent if you ask me.
Overall, I think Athens is an interesting city with a lot to offer, particularly if you are interested in Ancient History. It is quite cheap in comparison to the UK, although the more touristy areas hike up the prices. If you are an EU student, definitely bring your ID and ask about student discounts; as I said, I got into all the ancient sites for free with my student card! Athens is also a very easy city to navigate and you don’t really need to take public transport as pretty much all the places you’ll want to visit are in the centre, within walking distance (and the city is quite flat aside from the few hills dotted around, which are quite steep). If you do want to go further afield, the metro is easy to use and if you wanted to do tours of the islands, the hostel I stayed at organize their own but there are tons of tourist agencies who can sort you out. Safety-wise, it is a capital city like any other in Europe so be aware of your surroundings (pickpocketing, etc.). Overall I felt quite safe, even at night, just be cautious of where you are. As I said, the only time I felt unsafe was when going to Plato’s Academy, because I had to walk alone from the metro stop for like half an hour in a very remote area, so I decided to give it a miss. However, generally I found Athens to be quite safe and locals quite helpful and welcoming, so definitely give it a shot, even if travelling solo as I was! Athens is definitely a place to visit once in your lifetime!
Without further-a-do, my favourite things I did in Athens:
· Olympeion – the grandeur of Zeus’ Temple’s ruins was breathtaking!
· Hephaestus Temple at the Ancient Agora – impressive to see a temple so well-preserved.
· Eleutherion in the Acropolis – what can I say, I loved the Caryatids!
· Antica Restaurant (25, Adrianou, Athina 105 55, Greece) – they serve a wide variety of Greek and Mediterranean food at a good price, with a view onto the Ancient Agora, what more could you want?
· The view from Lycabettus Hill (and extra points if it’s during the sunset).
· The view of the Acropolis from Philopappus Hill (which also means you don’t have the sun behind the Acropolis during sunset, as happens when going to Lycabettus).
· National costumes in Benaki Museum (I’m a sucker for costumes)
· A picnic, you can choose the place. Have lunch at the National Gardens or dinner by the Acropolis. There’s something voyeuristic about watching strangers go on about their day.
I’m really sorry it took me so long to write up this post, but I have been super busy this past month. Hope you’ve enjoyed it and keep your eyes peeled for more updates. Don’t forget to follow me on social media for more photos!
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zoeamz/ (find my trip to Athens on my featured stories!)