Escape From Athens

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This post is mostly a rant but generally a description of how terrible our trip to the Athens Airport was. I have included a map of the Athens Metro so you can kind of see our journey.

Yesterday, March 23 we noticed a sign in the Metro saying the train drivers were on strike, so we had to take a bus to the airport. Which, was fine because we already knew which bus we could take, the x95 at Syntagma Station. Normally a strike wouldn’t phase us, it happens, right?

This morning the  check out time from our hostel was at 10:30. We decided at 11 we would leave for the airport. Even though we didn’t have to be at the airport until 2 and the x95 takes an hour to get us to the airport. We didn’t mind the idea of hanging out at the airport because we just wanted to get out of Athens.

Our hostel was next to the “Akropoli station” on the red line. we needed to get to “Syntagma” on the red and blue line, but we decided we would walk to Syntagma. Gavin had walked to Syntagma earlier that morning and noticed about 50 or so nicely dressed police officers and assumed it was security for something. By the time we arrived to Syntagma to catch our bus to the Airport we saw almost every police officer Athens had lining the streets. Streets were blocked off, officers were wearing gas masks and riot gear. We had reached Syntagma square only to see the entire square was barricaded off and the street where our bus should have been, was filled with armoured police vehicles and and armoured busses.

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A Photo of some tourists in Syntagma Square

Gavin and I were terrified. We didn’t know if there was a riot that was going to happen or if there was something to do with civil unrest. All we knew was that we couldn’t take a train to the airport and that the bus we should be taking was not stopping where we needed it to. We decided that we would walk to the train at Monastiraki station on the blue and green line and ride the blue line as far as we could to the airport then take a bus.

Unfortunately, we got lost trying to find this other train station and after a while of wandering ended up at “Omonia” station on the red line. We hopped a train from Omonia station trying to get to Syntagma Station so we could switch to the blue line And get to the airport. Unfortunately again, we took the wrong train and went to “Larissa Station”. We got off that train hopped onto another train towards Syntagma. As we were on the new train there was an announcement. Completely in Greek of course. We ignore the announcement and waited to get off the train at Syntagma….which unfortunately cannot happen because the train skipped Syntagma Station. Turns out that announcement was saying that not only was Syntagma square closed but the train station below was also closed.

Somehow, after 40 minutes. We ended up at the stop after Syntagma on the red line. Akropoli station. We actually went in an unintentional circle and ended up right where we started. We realized that since Syntagma was closed the only way we could get on the blue line to the airport was to go back to Omonia. Meanwhile Everyone else was having this same problem so the trains were packed with rush hour traffic on a Sunday morning. We rode from Akropoli to Omonia, switched to the green line and got off at Monastiraki (the train station we got lost walking towards). We jumped on a blue line train at Monastiraki to the airport.

Which if you remember, there was a strike. So we couldn’t get all the way to the airport. The PA systems were so kind to remind us in two separate messages that a) the train was on strike and would not take people to the airport, but you could get the x95 bus at Syntagma station instead and b) on a completely unrelated note, Syntagma station would be closed on the same days as the strike.

As we rode the train to the airport we were so stressed out and kept thinking about how the cab driver had stiffed us ten euros when we first arrived in Athens, and here we were pretty sure that we were going to get ripped off again.

We arrived at the last station the train would take us, Doukissis Plakentias. We got off the train and hailed a cab. The driver said the price would go by the meter and not a flat rate so we were a bit relaxed since we knew we were a 15 minute ride from the airport.

Once we arrived at the airport the rate said €14. But the cab driver handed a receipt for €20 saying we had to pay a tariff. But then he asked for €25 because we had luggage. We relented knowing that we were thankful to even be at the airport.

As we walked into the airport we exchanged heavy sighs and noticed that the time was 2pm. We had taken 3 hours to get to the airport. We reasearched what was going on in Syntagma and it turned out it was the Greek independence day parade for students. The police had blocked off the route so people could not see the parade and to prevent protestors. We were shocked to know that a parade was the reason a city centre was closed down. But honestly we shouldn´t have been surprised, It was Athens…

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Cruisin in the Aegean Part 3

The next day we woke up in Heraklion (Crete). I was so excited because Crete had so much history, until I remembered that cities with a lot of history tend to be industrialized….so we literally walked up the Main Street by the port. Nothing else happened. There are a total of three pictures.

Santorini

Santorini

Later that day we ended up in Santorini! I was super excited to be in Santorini because it is the what people think of when they think of Greece. It was supposed to be the complete opposite of Athens. Which it was, because everything was clean and every store was closed and we were facing dangerous winds. We tried to make the best of Santorini but it was very difficult. We were supposed to stop by and take photos of the island but it was too foggy…we were supposed to stop by the town of Thera but the wind was so dangerous we ended up going back to the boat as soon as it got dark. Santorini was really disappointing but what can you do?

We went back to the boat and once again we were approached by the cruise director to nominate a gentleman for the Ms. Orient Queen Peagant. Gavin sat down pleased that he had humiliated himself the night before so Adam from South Africa got nominated. He refused to dance like Gavin the night before but he was told that there would be no dancing, which I hope was comforting.

When time came for the Ms. Orient pageant, it turned out that Adam had tricked the cruise director into nominating his older brother Alex into the pageant. Adam and the rest of the Contiki tour sat back and watched Alex, a man from Colombia, a man from Argentina and our +1 try to win the title of Ms. Orient Queen.

The first part required the men to show off their muscles. Alex was embarrassed, our +1 of course took it too far and made things awkward…especially when they had to show their abs. The second part required the contestants to run across the lounge and kiss as many women on the cheek in the audience as possible in 30 seconds. When it was Alex’s turn the cruise director encouraged the Contiki girls to help him out so the 9 of us lined up so that Alex could kiss the 9 of us on the cheek. Alex won the kissing competition!

The next competition required the contestants to grab a woman from the audience and then run to her cabin and get dressed in her clothes. When the men came back they were given make up and were told to walk the runway. After a gorgeous strut Alex walked away with the crown and a bottle of champagne. We went to the Disco Disco bar to celebrate his win. We all sat down and after ordering glasses we were joined by our +1 who brought a bottle of his own champagne to share with us. Everyone felt obliged to return his kindness and we all sat quietly sipping champagne with him while the boat tipped back and forth. Our + 1 as expected kept making awkward comments the point where most of the girls slowly left the bar. The boys on the other hand thought he was hilarious and stuck around to see what other strange things he would do. This was when he ordered a special margarita that had the words, “I Love You” for Courtney, our tour manager. Courtney kindly accepted the lovely drink, which was followed by our +1 telling her he loved her, making the situation once again very awkward for everyone.

After the exciting afternoon everyone went to go pack our bags because we docked in Athens the next morning. Later we decided to spend one last night together at the Disco Disco bar, it was pretty uneventful until our +1 declared his intentions to marry our tour manager with a 3,000 year old ring, despite their “recent rough patch”  a patch that Courtney did not know exist.

The next morning the entire Contiki group had breakfast together before we went our separate ways. After the cruise ship docked we got on our coach and Courtney passed on last remarks and played “Summer of 69” one last time. Most of us got out at Syntagma square and hugged eachother good bye. Gavin and I grabbed our bags and headed to our hostel to spend another two days in Athens….AUGH!

Gavin and I reached our new destination, a hostel that had a 96% score on hostelworld.com. When we arrived with our heavy bags in tow we were shocked to learn that our booking for a 3 bed hostel for €23 each had been moved to another hostel that was “around the corner”. More like, around the corner up, the street, to the left, and down a block… When we arrived at the new hostel we got rebooked into a 4 bed hostel for the same price. Gavin and I were dumbfounded, we had booked a completely different hostel online with a smaller room and then they decided to change our booking to a different place and charge us the same for a room with more people in it!? We were frustrated and asked for the room that we had booked, a 3 bed hostel. Unfortunately the only room with three beds was a private room for €34 a night each…we were paying €30 each a private hotel room a week previously and they wanted us to pay more to stay in a hostel!? Gavin talked the hotel manager into giving us the 3 bed hostel room for €23 each, the bonus was that we didn’t have to pay for the third bed which was nice.

Gavin and I settled into our hostel room. Gavin took a shower and noticed a dirty towel had been left in the room. When we were about to sleep I noticed a small bed bug crawling on my pillow. We jumped out of bed and looked for more bugs. We didn’t see any but we did however notice that the sheets on the mattress were filthy. Gavin and I went to the Hotel manager and demanded cleaner sheets and placed the cleaner sheets on the plastic wrapped mattress. We then pulled out our private sheets from home and placed them on top of the bed and slept in them. The next morning we woke up to eat the “free” breakfast that we got from the hostel.

At the President Hotel we got hot eggs and sausage and cakes and spinach pies and Milk pies and salad and fruit and so much amazing stuff. At the hostel we got a roll and a boiled egg. Everything else we had to pay for. At this point we just did not care anymore and desperately wanted to get out of Athens, but we had to wait until the next day for any such luck.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

We decided we would spend our last day checking out the Olympic Stadium. Every surface was covered in Graffiti, glass walkways were destroyed and had cones directing people away. An artificial pond was brown and filled with Garbage. When we reached the train station we were informed that the Greek Train workers were on strike, and refused to drive the trains to the airport on the day we had to leave. Gavin and I sighed with frustration, It was just another day in Athens.

Athens < Great

Two days ago we ate a wonderful buffet provided to us by our hotel. The free buffet almost made up for the fact that our hotel charges for wifi…almost. After hitting up the local Starbucks we headed back to Syntagma Square where we hoped to wander by the Acropolis and see the Parthenon. We decided to travel off the beaten path and ended up in a terrifying and sketchy area. The sketchy thing about the area wasn’t the people it was the buildings, everything was decrepit suddenly the sidewalks were motorcycle lanes and everything smelt bad. Buildings were abandoned and covered in graffiti with stray cats and dogs everywhere. We hurried towards Monastiraki Square, (where we were yesterday) and decided to take the train to the Parthenon instead. In the midst of this decision we got approached by a beggar woman with flowers. She gave me a rose and told me I looked like Angelina Jolie (of all famous people in existence she is someone I do not look like) and told gavin he looked like George Clooney (when oddly Gavin looks more like Brad Pitt). The woman told me my rose was free then gave Gavin a rose to give to me. She then said that Gavin’s rose was not free to which we tried to give the roses back to her and she’s says, “I have a baby to feed, I have a baby to feed” we tried to give the roses back and she refuses to take them insisting that Gavin give her money to pay her. Gavin relented and gave her two euros. To which she says one more. So Gavin pulls out a handful of change and he tries to hand her one euro she then digs through the change in his hand and takes at least four more Euros…. Gavin and I were dumbstruck. We got swindled for at least 5 euros from a beggar…. This moment pretty much changed our outlook for the day. We almost ran back to our hotel with embarrassment over what had happened but changed our minds at went to the Acropolis anyway.

The Acropolis is famous ruins on the top of a hill. Unsure of how to even get to the ruins and also not particularily interested in the trek to the top of the hill We went to the Acropolis Museum instead. The Acropolis museum is the nicest place in Athens. There is no graffiti everything is modern, it appeared as if the government poured all of the money they had into this one building. The museum was a detailed look at what the Parthenon used to look like as well as how it was changed into a church and mosque over its 2,500 year history. While we enjoyed the museum we did not enjoy being kicked out at 4:45 because they planned to close at 5:00.

After the museum we tried to see how we would even get to Parthenon and saw a gate to the entrance. What is particular to this gate was that there was well over two dozen feral cats hanging around, I have never seen so many feral cats before in my entire life.

We went to dinner at a local restaurant then headed straight back to our hotel.

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The Parthenon

Yesterday we went back to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. We were cocky and decided we didn’t need our jackets because the weather had been so nice. As we traveled we noticed everyone wearing down coats and giving us strange looks for wearing t shirts in 16 degree weather. Unfortunately for us as we climbed the Acropolis we got rained on. After the bit of rain we saw the Parthenon and got to see other sites on the hill too. Gavin tried some Greek coffee. It came in a small espresso cup and packed a punch, though was unfiltered so half the cup was just coffee grounds.

We are not pleased to be here another few days before our Contiki tour. This city really has nothing to offer other than the ruins and food and decently warm weather. Unless you are VERY interested in the ruins we suggest you don’t waste your time or money on coming to Athens (especially money it’s more expensive here than in Germany!). I can’t wait to leave Athens And see the Greek Islands. Santorini is supposed to be beautiful, and the others should be interesting. But Athens….not my cup of tea.

After three days in Athens our visit can best be described by the tourist information lady we spoke with: “You only need to spend two days in Athens, one for the Acropolis, one for the park. If you are here longer It’s good to take a bus and see else where.”

Munich and Athens (so far)

Our backpacking trip started only three days ago and so far it’s been pretty exciting. Our first stop was Munich. We took a train to Munich from my cousins home with relative ease. Our train traveled at 200 km per hour. Just when we thought we had the train system figured, the conductor told us we apparently took a slow train and that we should have taken a faster train! We didn’t mind the slow train, we enjoyed the scenic route between Ansbach and Munich. When we arrived in Munich we ate at this lovely little Italian place on the corner of our hostel. I had the most amazing ravioli! We tried checking into the Wombats Hostel (which was next door to the Jäger Hostel that I stayed in years ago and nowhere near the Cocoon Hotel we stayed in last time we visited Munich). Wombats said they were undergoing renovations so we could not immediately go to our rooms so we hung around the hostel and watched Argo until check in time. Check in involved getting a key card that let us get into our rooms and lockers, a free beer pass, and grabbing fresh clean sheets for our beds. We went up and made our beds like good little hostel dwellers then went downstairs and waited at the bar for anyone to talk to us. A few Canadians were at the bar but we found our home with a group who had met earlier in the day (some even met at different cities previously). Understanding that we all would only know each other for the one night we all identified with each other through the names of where we were from. There was Texas, Argentina, Estonia, and three Australians: Sydndey, Melbourne and Adelaide. All of us enjoyed Happy Hour at the hostel before wandering the streets of Munich to the Hofbrauhaus. The beer hall was less busy this time and we all had a great time absorbing the German tourist trap. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and I went straight to sleep.

IMG_1401The next day Gavin and I decided we would go on the four hour OZ free Tour of Munich, and boy did we make Fantastic choice. Our tour guide Ozzy was the most charismatic and interesting person. Our tour was not just looking at sites with his commentary it was learning about local culture And customs while relating the history of Munich to everything around us. Ozzy was hilarious, insightful, and informative. After the tour he took us all out for a beer at a local beer hall. We laughed at jokes and got to know other people on our tour. After the beer hall we went to another beer hall where we met some of Ozzys friends. Before long a tour that had started at 11am turned into a hang out that lasted until 7pm. After hanging out with Ozzy we went to the hostel grabbed our things and journeyed to the airport where we would grab a shuttle to our airport hotel.

The next morning we woke up at 4am to catch a shuttle to the airport for our Air China flight to Athens, Greece. We expected the flight to be terrible, after all we got the tickets for $123cdn and all the reviews online were unfavourable. Shockingly enough the flight was great! It was two hours, they served us a delicious hot meal, I could watch a tv show, it was good. WAY Better than any American flight I have ever taken and better than some Canadian airlines *cough* Air Canada *cough* .

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We landed in Greece and were immediately given tourist cards that gave us a 50to 20 percent discount in Athens, which despite the economic crisis is expensive. It was strange going from the country with the top GDP in Europe to the one with the lowest. As we were driving into Athens from the airport we noticed every large billboard was in disrepair and that there was graffiti tags and litter everywhere. We arrived at our hotel (which had a nice lobby) and found ourselves a little disappointed after leaving Munich on such a high. We looked out of our hotel window and saw tons of smog, the mountain view was not even enough to bring our spirits up.

After a quick nap we wandered hoping to find a cheap food stand because we could see Athens getting expensive fast. Taking public transit was easy enough, given that the Greek alphabet is shapes and letters that we could neither say or read without confusion. We ended up at the public shopping centre where our spirits started to glow a bit. We saw so many mini markets and exciting food vendors and stores that sold local goods. The shop keepers we spoke to were all so kind taking the time to speak English to us and explain things to us. We ended up at a restaurant where the owner showed us photos of each dish and made suggestions. I ordered Calimari which came back crispy and flavourful whilst lightly battered and free of oil. Gavin got Lamb souvlaki which was juicy and flavourful. We even got a free desert, Semolina. After we went to a fruit stand and bought the juiciest strawberries we ever tasted, juicy tangerines, kiwis and bananas all for 5 euros. We walked around Athens with well treated taste buds and finished our evening with coconut candy. We went back to our hotel wondering what we would do next….

My backpacking trip begins tomorrow!

Tomorrow, March 11 we truly begin our backpacking trip!!!

At this point in time we are planning on hitting up, Athens Greece to do a cruise around the Greek Islands! Then we jet off to Barcelona, Spain where we will visit the Port Aventura theme park, Valencia and Madrid. Followed by a jaunt in the south of France where we will  check out some beaches, up north to Bordeaux for some wine then eat macarons from Laduree at the Eiffel Tower in Paris! From there we may to go to Brussels for Belgium chocolates then to the Netherlands, followed by Berlin and Prague. We will stop by at my cousins in Germany for a bit and then head to London where we will see the cliffs of Dover. This promises to be an amazing 2 months!