For some reason Will and I had a little mix-up on the timings of our trip to Greece. We found ourselves with an extra day and a bit to explore Athens, and not a lot of time to plan due to limited Internet access -- Greece isn't on the Three Feel At Home list -- and the fact that we figured this out on our first evening in Athens prior to leaving for the islands. So, we winged it.
Athens, as you might imagine, is soaked in history, much like how my clothes were soaked in sweat in the stifling Greek heat. I really can't hope to do it justice (the city, not my sweaty clothes), so here is a rough breakdown of what we did in our bonus holiday time. I hope you find it useful if you're actually reading this in advance of planning a trip!
9AM: Our group returned the boat to Alimos Marina, I booked a cheap hotel on Last Minute, and we caught a 20 minute taxi to the Apollo Hotel (Metro: Metaxourghio), a perfectly serviceable place which was £40 a night at the time. This included what turned out to be a slightly lacklustre breakfast -- we ate like kings on the boat, whereas this stuff probably came from giant catering tubs. We cleaned ourselves up, napped, then wobbled downstairs on our sealegs.
12PM: I started scribbling over a free tourist map while frantically Googling things like "Athens must do". By this stage I was getting hangry, so we walked a few blocks towards the Psirri district through kind of a rundown looking area. There was some amazing street art, most of which was of a political persuasion. Lunch was moussaka, salad, souvlaki, and my new favourite dip, taramasalata (which is also super fun to say, especially if you pretend to be a pirate).
1.30PM: My Googling had turned up Melissinos, the Poet-Sandal Maker of Athens. Stavros Melissinos' literary work is taught around the world, but his day job was working as a sandalmaker, and now his equally-accomplished son Pantelis has taken over the tiny, colourful shop. The service is pretty great, despite the swarms of tourists hemming and hawing over which of the 30-odd designs to have custom-fitted to their feet. Bob Saget has a pair, and a photo with Pantelis on the wall. Sarah Jessica Parker loves her No.22 Prince style so, according to a poster featuring her face. (FYI I got the No.26 Thebes.)
3PM: Monistiraki Flea Market (Metro: Monistiraki) is the place to go if you're wanting souvenir t-shirts, key rings, and painted icons. I'm sure there are legit shops full of wares made by artisans, but it's hard to get past the hordes of tourists, literally and figuratively. Head for the hills! Adrian's Wall and the Agora are nearby, or even better, the Acropolis Museum (Metro: Acropoli). This was a refuge from the heat and the crowds, and well worth the €5 entry fee, with some great exhibits for a Classics novice like me. You also get a really great view of the Parthenon.
5PM: I convinced Will it would be a good idea to see a Greek play, so we waited around for tickets at the foot of the Acropolis. This took a while -- the ticket office didn't quite get around to opening when it said it would -- and by then it had cooled down enough for us to tackle the Acropolis. This was, as you can imagine, pretty spectacular!
7.50PM: Sunset. People clapped.
8PM: Time to head to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (or the slightly more catchy Herodeon). We'd gotten cheap tickets to Ajax by Sophocles, which, by the way? Was all in Greek, funnily enough. Two hours of it. BUT IT WAS AWESOME LOOK AT US SITTING IN AN ACTUAL GREEK AMPHITHEATRE. (N.B. I think performances end around October, and this may have been the tail end of the Athens Festival.)
9.30PM: We were pretty tired by this stage, and I really can't remember where we went, but we must have caught the Metro to Syntagma because I took a photo of the Greek Parliament.
10PM: Most of the bars we came across were pumping, but we really weren't up for drinks -- the heat had taken a lot out of us. So we stopped for a quick souvlaki at a joint somewhere on Ermou, I think.
10.30AM: We checked out of the hotel, left our luggage, and set off for Anafiotika, a tiny neighbourhood built by workers from the island of Anafi in the 19th Century. Apparently they were working on the King's palace, and sneakily built their own digs in in this prime location in their down-time. The whitewashed houses are seemingly stacked on top of each other on the hills above Plaka, with loads of cats loafing about in the shade of the bougainvilleas. You can also make your way to the Acropolis from here -- a calmer, more scenic route compared to going through Monastiraki and the Agora.
12PM: We were boiling by this stage, having climbed up and down the streets of Anafiotika and the Plaka, and were about to stop for a drink when we ran into a couple of friends (also Kiwis living in London). Pretty nuts! Bars and restaurants are a little overpriced in this area, being a popular spot with tourists and well-heeled Athenians. The shopping options here are a bit more upmarket compared to Monastiraki, including quite a few art and design shops. I kept to my new tradition of buying a towel from holiday destinations (see my Sicily pick in this post), and picked up one of these guys from Pestemal.
1.30PM: It was time to hoof it back to the hotel and pick up our luggage to head to the airport. A note about Athens Metro: it looks like they've changed the pricing and structure slightly as of September 2015, just after we were there. For a quick stop in the city, all you would probably need is a €4 daily ticket which is valid on basically any mode of transport except the airport Metro, or maybe a €10 five-day pass if you're there for a little longer. A single ticket costs €1.20 and is valid for any mode of transport within 70 minutes. For the airport, the best option is probably the €8 one-way Metro ticket (€14 for two people), or you could go for the €20 3-day ticket for everything, including a round trip to the airport.
I wish we could have spent a bit longer in Greece. It was a really affordable place to travel, the food was amazing, and there's obviously so much more to explore and learn about the country. I would love to hear your recommendations if you've been before, to Athens or elsewhere -- I'll definitely be heading back!