Before embarking on our trip to Greece I researched it tirelessly for about two months. The more I read the more stressed out I got; I had no idea which islands we should visit or how long our stay in Athens should be. I wish I could brag and say that I figured it all out by myself but I didn’t. I cheated. One of my readers is from Athens. And as soon as she heard about my travel plans she walked me through many details and helped me make the right choices for a safe, cost effective, and fascinating visit. I will be forever grateful! My husband and I had planned for my in laws to join us. So it was four of us in Greece for ten days: two days in Athens, three on the island of Naxos, and four on Santorini. We were coming from Moldova, where we had spent two weeks with my family. My in laws were flying in from New York. Since I’d planned the whole trip I wanted everything to go impeccably because, yes I wanted to impress my in laws, and there’s no shame in admitting that, right?
From the Airport to the Hotel
My husband’s parents arrived five hours earlier than us and instead of paying an overpriced taxi, at our recommendation, they simply took the metro. There’s only one metro line that serves the airport – the blue line – and one of the stops is the Monastiraki station, which was right around the corner from our hotel.
Where We Stayed
I was excited about the low prices for hotels in Athens. Thankfully I ran a few options by my friend, and she wasn’t thrilled with the locations. She recommended we find a place close to downtown around Psiri, Monastiraki and Plaka. We chose the Cecil Hotel. Quite affordable! The area was perfectly safe, always busy and we were able to walk to the Acropolis on a pedestrian road next to the old Agora. The Monastiraki metro station is nearby with a lot of choices for food, drinks, sightseeing, and shopping. I have had friends who have visited Athens and they had a less than stellar experience. We figured out later that they stayed in neighborhoods that weren’t close to the fun stuff. They had to do a lot of commuting and spent a lot of time in parts of the city where nothing much is going on. So keep that in mind while you are planning your Athens trip.
Let me start by saying I‘d never met Soohia before. We had exchanged emails and she had engaged with me on Facebook and online. Yet she not only offered to pick my husband and I up from the airport, but also give us a guided tour of some of her favorite parts of the city. We arrived half hour after she got off work.
“Do you even know what she looks like?”, my husband asked me when we landed and I looked around at the sea of people.
“I saw a few photos…”, I responded confidently although my heart was racing. I had no idea who this woman was. She could be weird or crazy! Why was she being so nice? Would I offer to pick up two perfect strangers from the airport and take them to their hotel if they were visiting my country? Hmmm, maybe…
We finally saw her waving at us. She hurried to meet us with a big open smile. The pictures didn’t do her justice. I was struck by how beautiful she was!
“It has been a hot day”, she warned us in perfect English. Ten minutes later we were flying down the highway and chatting away. It was so easy to talk to her. I immediately felt connected to Sophia, and it seemed like I had known her my entire life. There was an ease that settled in right away and I relaxed as she pointed out the Aegean sea and the olive groves. She chose the scenic route for us, and Athens unfolded before our eyes, so many stories etched into the ruins, the warehouses, the apartments. It’s not all perfectly preserved in the same way that Rome is, but the layers of change make it a striking sight.
Sophia wasn’t the only person so kind to us in Greece. Everyone we met was incredibly helpful and warm. Any time we used Greek phrases like “isas” (hello) or “efcharisto” (thank you), they patted us on the back and gave us a thumbs up. Our new friend dropped us off at the hotel around 8pm and we planned to meet up the next day to visit the Acropolis together.
The Museum of Archeology
When my friend recommended we spend a whole day visiting the Museum of Archaeology I was a bit skeptical. But she knew her city better than I did. The next morning we woke up early and enjoyed our complimentary breakfast of Greek yogurt with honey and fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, and ham slices. I confess I did imbibe in the Greek yogurt even though I’m usually dairy free. Who goes to Greece and doesn’t try authentic Greek yogurt? Not me.
My husband mapped out the route for us and we decided to walk to the Museum, as it would only take us a half hour. We enjoyed the busy city and venturing a little farther away from our neighborhood. None of us felt unsafe at any point. Everyone was rushing to work and we passed many stalls of beautiful fresh produce that made my mouth water. I especially enjoyed gawking at the spices, figs, olive oil, and honey stands guarded faithfully by clouds of grumpy yellow jackets. There was no line when we got to the museum which was a pleasant surprise. Everywhere else we’ve gone to in Europe we’ve have had to stand in long lines to see museums. “This isn’t a good sign”, I thought. “Where are all the tourists.” Well, I was wrong. I don’t know where all the tourists were but I sure am glad they weren’t all there. The museum of archaeology is incredible. We spent all morning there, took a break for lunch, and came back for round two in the afternoon. We didn’t get back home until after four. There is so much to see. My husband and I both hold a degree in Liberal Arts and seeing in person many of the sculptures and artifacts we had only stared at in books was an amazing experience. I walked through the history of Greece, room by room, marveling at the culture they had achieved and detailed artifacts from thousands of years ago. My in-laws were just as enthralled as we were. None of us were bored or wanted to leave before we scoured the entire place. It was well worth ten euros a person.
The Plaka Neighborhood
At the hotel after the museum we cleaned up and ventured out into the Plaka, the old historical neighborhood of Athens with the Acropolis surreally watching over us. The streets were clean, paved with marble and clustered with vendors selling beautiful scarfs, pretty Grecian dresses, souvenirs, and anything a tourist might want to shop for. We mostly admired and kept walking. My husband and I are budget travelers with light backpacks we can always carry on planes. The atmosphere was intoxicating and although Plaka is littered with tourists, we had a very exciting, culturally informative two hour walk. We finally decided to end our lovely evening at a small, local farm to table restaurant. Be warned, every hole in the wall will have someone flamboyantly enticing people to stop in. We were first thrown off and weren’t sure how to respond to the aggressive hospitality but a smiling “no thanks” usually works – usually. We dined around 9:30 on a side street away from the noise of the Plaka, with an astonishing view of the Acropolis all lit up in the dark. We all opted for traditional Greek dishes and the food did not disappoint one bit. Between the incredible food, interesting walks, and our experience at the archaeological museum, our first day in Athens was picture perfect.
The Acropolis & the Acropolis Museum
We were honestly still clueless about just how good the location of Cecil Hotel was until Sophia picked us up the next morning and we walked on a pedestrian street all the way to the Acropolis. It was beginning of September and the lines at 9am were much longer than expected. Fortunately they moved quickly while we chatted away. Seeing the Acropolis with Sophia, who knows the history of her people so well, was a rare treat. Although there were A LOT of tourists up there on the hill, it didn’t matter to us as we meandered around the old temple with our own local friend.
The Acropolis museum was interesting, much fancier and more expensive than the museum of archaeology, but I wasn’t as enthralled with it, though I am glad we went. We got to have a cup of tea on the museum’s wonderful terrace cafe overlooking the Acropolis from a different angle than what we had seen from the Plaka. It made my tea taste much sweeter. 😉
Sophia then took us to a local cafe where we ate and discussed the political and economic difficulties Greece facing, with austerity, corruption, immigration, and many other interesting, complex issues, but that is not my story to tell. The owner served us some of his homemade white wine and when the dishes began to appear my mouth started watering instantly. Here is a few photos to give you a sense of what we got to taste.
With full bellies we walked back and explored the Agora. We even found where Socrates would have engaged in dialogues with his students. Very thrilling!
Athens features quite a bit of graffiti art. I’ve never really seen anything like it actually. It’s everywhere. I find graffiti to be a way to read a new place between the lines of what the museums, galleries, and gardens offer newcomers. It often tells a different story, and it’s an art form that I like to keep an eye for.
At Sophia’s recommendation, our last meal, was a restaurant that offered delicious gyros topped with fresh grilled tomatoes that were to die for. I just wanted a plate full of tomatoes for dessert. It was located on a very busy street, so we people watched and drunk Greek wine late into the night, despite our plan to wake up at 5 am and to catch a ferry to Naxos.
48 Hours In Athens
Although I’m sure Athens has many more interesting things to offer, our two day itinerary was perfect. We got to see the Acropolis, wonder through the streets in the old neighborliness of the Plaka, meticulously explore the national archaeological museum, and eat delicious food for every meal. I never once felt rushed. Looking back I wouldn’t do it any different.
As for the Greek isles, that is a different story and you’ll have to wait for me to it next week 😉