Like a Lilliput around the titanic Grecian columns of the Olympieion, in a brazen ochre haze of eroded limestone and very few people around, I suddenly felt the thrill to have made it, to Hellas. After a pocket-friendly ride with Etihad and Aegean airlines from Bombay (Price INR 17K only! Check out tips and tricks to bag cheap flights in a separate post following soon) we reached the city where you can hop from 2016AD tram to 550BC Hadrian’s gate in few minutes. Without a wormhole. It is amazing how modern urban life warmly embraces the historical remains.
With history spanning over 3400 years, with established glory as the cradle of European culture and extremely tourist friendly infrastructure, Athens was our first destination of choice in Europe. In blogs and other conversations Athens’ economic crisis often come up as a big question mark to the tourist safety and other travel issues. But once in the fairly cosmo atmosphere, helpful citizens and cultural grandeur will be the first things you notice. Metro rails, suburban railways, trams and ample buses make Athens transport scenario fairly easy. The Greek alphabets are only too known to anyone who have studied even a li’l bit of maths and working out the names on you own becomes a fun. Free maps are tugged in roadside posts for free tourist reference. The city is big but in a 3 day tour you can only rush to finish the central attractions.
We stayed in Evaggelismos, a very nice neighborhood, only about a kilometer from Acropolis. With generous help from downloaded off-line google maps we took shortcuts like pro-Athenians and reached the first ever Olympic stadium of the world. In every tourist site you can see the hop-on hop-off buses, generally crammed with elderly touristy crowd. The buses are convenient but I would suggest walking as the roads are clean and there is so much to watch all around! Just like this little florist shop on the roadside:
“Ruins”, as they call it, are really a big pile of rubble saving some huge structures who still stand today defying all challenges of time and …my,..my…their immaculate precision, the geometry and sheer size awes you, the hike across Athens Acropolis slopes, on a bright sunny day to the very top to reach Parthenon, The temple of Roma & Augustus, The alter of Athena and the view of entire Athens from the top make it all worthy. The theatre of Dionysos where ancient Greek drama took birth and flourished still stands with the rounded galleries and central stage, broken but proud, the idea of such an open air theatre was conceived at such an ancient era. Goose-bump-ey stuff.
Exploring the urban web of ancient Athens encompassing whole of Acropolis hill and its slopes through main roads, such as the street of tripods, we moved without a guide, following tell-all history plaques without any problem. Audio guides from rick Steeves kept us informed. Downloaded offline google maps made navigation easy. We shopped groceries, gobbled peaches, hunted for vegetarian food, tasted suvlakies and falafels, sipped greek frappe, bnb’ed in a local greek Naval architect’s home and I secretly eyed awfully handsome greek policemen who were everywhere ensuring tourist safety.
On the road, outside Acropolis grounds, a greek kid played a song in her flute. It was “Teri meri prem kahani” from Bodyguard movie. I later found out the song has plagiarism claims from “La Betleem Colo-njos” , a Romanian carol. Weird things like this sum up to our travel and that is what keeps us going.
Some quick helpful facts:
1. Flight cost booked 4 months ahead of travel from Mumbai/Delhi to Athens can come down as low as INR 15K per person.
2. 3 day accommodation in comfortable BnBs around Evaggelismos/Kritonos cost around INR 7K for a couple room.
3. Greek VISA will cost around INR 6K per person and take a maximum of 2 weeks to get issued.
4. A detour to beautiful Santorini/Mykonos islands for 2 days can be taken for an added budget for INR 30K for 2 people. Refer post Santorini: Five absolute budget hacks
5. Athens sight-seeing consists mainly of the 6 stop for 30Euro per person. This will include Acropolis and slopes, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, The library of Hadrian, Olympieion, Kerameikos, Lykeion of Aristotle.
Of the above mentioned 6 places Acropolis and slopes and Olympieion are the most beautifully preserved. The rest of the sites are more ruins than actual structures, frankly. If you are not a major history buff and cannot switch on your imagination then you may find these a little overkill. In that case consider taking separate tickets for Acropolis and Olympieion at the Acropolis gate. Students with valid student IDs will have free entries! Check out the Syntagma Square at the city center and watch the drill of guards at the Greek Parliament, feed the numerous pigeons and ride the red touristy tramcars. The Athens tram is a beautiful mode of transport, take a ride to the Pireaus, Faliron beaches, 30 mins from city center. The beaches are pristine with crystal blue water and rocky golden sand. The best part is that the beaches are very calm with very few people around (I don’t know if it was so for the particular day I visited). A serene afternoon in the beach with a drink watching the sunset can be very relaxing. The ride back to the city in tram is also scenic as a large part of the track is parallel to the coastline. With the opening of the coastal tram and the continuation of the Athens Metro all the way to Glyfada, the towns of the Athens Gold Coast, or the Athenian Riviera, specifically Glyfada, Voula and Faliron, have seen an influx of foreign travelers. And why not? All these towns are really extensions of Athens with shops, restaurants, cafes and the one thing that central Athens does not have: the Aegean Sea.