Athens, simply fantastic with cherries on top! We enjoyed a full week of site seeing and exploring but have to say, the night we ventured in to a traditional Greek restaurant, got steaming drunk only to find we’d been locked out of our camper stop is certainly a lasting memory. But more about that later, let me tell you about Athens …
On a warm autumn night in the middle October we ride Eor our little motorbike through the bright lights of Athens, one of the worlds oldest city’s. Inhabited for over 7,000 years, a city for a mere 3,000 years and the capital of Greece since 1834, it is mega. We are aiming for Lykavittos Hill, often referred to as the path of lights, a prominent hill that climbs 910 ft and provides the most impressive views of the city and beyond. This once destined to be the Acropolis citadel until the goddess, Athena dropped the idea and now, it is now home to a tiny chapel. We admire the view, pick out the brightest light and head for it.
The Presidential Palace down in the centre, is starting to attract a growing number of tourists. As darkness falls, more spot lights are switched on and the changing of the guard commences. The crowd cheers and there’s a feeling of positivity. This former royal palace was occupied until 1967 when King Constantine did a runner (to England we think?). Out went the monarchy, in came the President and the Evzones continued to guard the property. We mingle among the crowd and watch traditional ritual as the two guards march in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier providing an fascinating and spectacular exchange.
It has to be said that, for Athens, the recent past has been less than great. The city has suffered a 5 year slump that is on a par with the damage caused by the Great Depression. The economic crisis hit hard, and for the last few years it has carried the signs of a troubled and fed up economy, with whole streets of boarded-up shopfronts, soaring unemployment, bailout plans, riots, protests and the general sadness that comes from being too long in the doldrums. On top of a financial and economic crisis, Athens has dealt with a growing number of refugees.
After years of wearing their tin hat, some good news for Greece. Two weeks ago the Eurozone ministers gave the go ahead for Greece to receive €2.8bn in bailout money. Athens met the deadline to implement reforms needed to unlock the funds. This marks a huge turning point for Greece and a well needed affirmation that Greece is finally starting to turn a corner.
As visitor numbers pick up, so does the demand for appealing places to stay. The economic downturn was supposed to have killed off investment in the hotel sector, and looking at the hotel facing our camper parking spot you would say its dead. Good job we have our little 5 star homey to turn to although parking in and around Athens is very limited for motorhomes. There are a couple of city campsites located several miles outside the centre, offering very basic facilities, nosey locations and extortionate rates for the privilege, like most city campsite around the world.
We checked out the reviews on Camper Contact and opted to stay at Parkopolis in Piraeus district, its about 6 miles to the city centre. It is nothing more than a car park but it is clean, secure, fresh water and reasonably quiet. The car park has automated gates that close and secure the facility from 9.30 pm to 7 am but the owner provides you with her mobile incase of an emergency. The once parking space for carriages and horses is now the car park of the proud owner, Marie who is extremely welcoming, friendly and helpful. Offering a great insight in to Athens, the key things to see and the highlights that most people miss. The cost for 24 hours is €13.
Wifi is included in the price and we managed to get a reasonable signal. When we weren’t zipping in and out we managed to catch up on emails, admin, banking and of course a few other blogs. I have to say, one of my favourite blogs at the moment is Alison’s Adventure in Wonderland, I just simply admire her stories and can’t wait to get a ping on her latest post. I also like checking in and catching up on the latest stuff at Motorhomefun. It’s just a great forum for checking out other peoples views on various motorhoming stuff as well as have a laugh or two at general discussions and funny stories. It was also nice to Fred finally purchase a Hymer 504 and set up his bread bin blog in readiness for his travels, one to watch out for. Poor Nick from Rockinandrollin had to have surgery on his back and Jay and Ju are happy bunnies in cheap Lidl land. And good old pops, well he is getting ready for his holiday in Benidorm.
We zoomed back and forth between Athens and Piraeus on our bike, dodging the manic traffic and lunatic drivers. However, if biking isn’t your thing then the metro is stride away with direct link to Athens taking just 20 minutes. During our week in Athens, we of course went to see the Acropolis and all the national treasures of the Ancient city. In true tourist fashion we purchased a 5 day pass for 6 archaeological sites and museums for a combined price of €30. Included in the ticket
Dominated the city for over 2,000 years. From the scale of the Parthenon to the crumbling of the Erechtheion. Excellent as you would expect but a good chuck of it is covered in scaffolding and fenced off as continuous repair and restoration works continue.
Complex with smaller rooms and a garden with a pool as well as the vast library itself
The Roman Forum & The Tower of Winds
Small, octagonal building built as a water clock, with a compass, sundials and weather vane. It has a relief on each side depicting the wind from that direction.
Once the potters’ district of ancient Athens and site of the principal cemetery, whose grave monuments can still be seen.
Market place, was the ancient centre of commercial life. The Stoa of Attalos was reconstructed in mid 1950’s on its original, 2nd-century BC foundations. It now houses the Agora Museum.
One of the largest temples in the ancient world. The 56 ft high marble columns that remain standing.
The one corner of charm in the city is a warren of narrow, pedestrian-only streets behind the the Roman Forum called, the Monastiraki meaning sunken monastery. Here the little lanes and passageways are packed with restaurants and crowds of people wandering around in the happy state of deciding where to eat or what trinket to purchase from the array of street stalls. Another area, which is very similar is Plaka with cobbled streets and chic shops. This is the oldest inhabited area of Athens with the origins of the name dating back to 16th century when the Albanian soldiers in settled here.
In addition, we popped in to loads of museums, churches and any other ‘look at me’ sites we happened to stumble across.
For us, the area around the Port of Piraeus is where the city hides its heart. Around Kentriko Liman (main port), the traffic maddened main street of Piraeus, lie the lively market area, including fishmongers, fruit and vegetable stalls, ship chandlers and hardware stores. It is a myriad of bazaars and alleys selling everything from live stock and pet rabbits to rope and police uniforms.
This fascinating neighbourhood miraculously integrates its working class origins with a variegated culture drawn from Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Poles and Albanians. Overlay the whole mix of custom and culture on top of a layer of ancient settlement, derelict buildings and you get a shabby shambles that is teaming with life. Greece’s historically lenient entry requirements for refugees have made it a magnet for people from all walks of life. A lot of refugees stay because the city provides opportunity but also, because Greeks are very welcoming.
Walking around the main port area you can see endless shopping trollies and cardboard boxes providing shelter to so many homeless, it is hard to imagine that just over the hill is the second port, Pasalimani. Here the feel could not be more different, filled with luxurious yachts, body guards, bronzed deck hands and serious dosh. No ferries just multi million dollar yachts. The kind of yachts that make you wonder…who owns that boat? As you continue around the coastline the third marina filled with “I am rich but not silly rich yachts” with colourful restaurants, bars and bistro’s.
If mixing with the rich and famous is not for you then Athens holds a massive Sunday flea market, which runs all around the tiny streets, allies and squares around Piraeus. It is full of crap, gloomy and grimy stuff with more seedy individuals than any other kind of city we have visited. But it is totally fascinating and mind blowing to walk around. I loved it. It felt edgy and unique. It is heaving with street bric a brac, big knicker displays, bargain bra’s the size of sling shots, bag a brunch spots and drinking dens. With everyone pitching up to sell their goods from homeless folk trying to make a buck or two, to street shop owners tapping in to their prime location. But one things they all had in common, the yell, everyone trying to out yell the next in the hope the loudest shout wins.
Street life in Athens just rocks.
Every doorway issues a warm draught of grilled aromas and every window reveals crowds of people enjoying themselves at almost any hour of the day but come night time, everyone shuts shop. We scoured every blinking alley and not one restaurant open (or none that we fancied risking our lives with), so our 1st night of eating out in Piraeus ended with a €2 take away gyros. If that’s not bad enough, we ended up sitting on a concrete stump in the middle of the grubby port with a 100 eye balls watching our every move. It wasn’t quite the fine dining experience we had in mind but we had a bloody good laugh.
Our second dining experience turned out to be rather more than we’d hoped for but sadly, we didn’t take the camera. After strolling the streets avoiding the gyros bars we stopped for an authentic Greek dinner at a grim looking family joint. We arrived at around 7.30. We ordered a beer and half a carafe of wine to accompany our meal. The food was homemade and tasty: and the service was excellent since we were the only customers in the place. When asked how was our meal, Craig’s reply in a broad Lancashire accent was priceless “smashin love”.
By the time we’d finished the our meal two fellas had entered the restaurant and sat down on the table next to us. Craig ordered another beer whilst I finished my glass of wine. We glanced at the clock, it was 7.30, plenty time. We got chatting in a mixed up Greek to English sort of way to the two fella’s Gregory and Theordor and the couple who owned the restaurant. We finished our beverages, asked for the bill and paid up, the clock on the wall said 7.30, still plenty time.
The bill arrived along with a large glass of beer and half a carafe of wine. “What’s this?” we asked. A round of drinks from your friend Gregory. Nice one. We continued chatting and finished our round of drinks by which time the restaurant had started to fill up. Just as the glass emptied another round of drinks appeared but this time from the owners. We tried to return the thank you but they would not accept. And you guessed it, the clock said 7.30! The drinks continued to flow curtesy of the owners and before long, the songs started, the clapping of hands and the dancing on tables began. Umpa Umpa Umpa.
We were both a bit worse for wear but Craig was absolutely wasted. We exited the premises at exactly 7.30 (whatever time that was) and bounced all the way back to the camping place. In true drunken fashion, Craig smiled inanely at strangers, fell in half a dozen door ways and managed to inappropriately pee on some homeless guy’s bed. We chuckled our way around to the parking place to be met by a large 10ft locked gate. The chuckle stopped and we scratched our heads! Maybe the clock was wrong? Our mobile was locked in the motorhome and so we could not phone Marie. We had no choice but to pole vault. I will leave that messy clambering to your imagination but an hour later we flopped in to bed, drunk and athletically exhausted.
The next day after a bloody good Greek night, we woke quite late and although I felt fine, I couldn’t say the same for Craig. His head was pounding as if it had spent the night on the receiving end of a pneumatic drill. He went to the bathroom and realised he had a dead arm. He frantically shook his arm to get the circulation moving but it remained numb. He struggle through the morning with a dead arm and plenty pity me low death noises to which I ignored. By afternoon, his arm was no better (I was worried he’d damaged it quite badly but in true Craig fashion, it will be alreet). In fact, it took several days for Craig’s arm to return to some kind of normality (and still he only has 75% mobility) and so we can only assume he sprained it during a stumble, a bounce or climb!
Time for a walk around the Piraeus coast to clear our heads
Our time in Athens sadly came to an end when Craig got itchy feet. It was a rare but welcomed treat to spend a week in a city that we really enjoyed. The key to Athens, in our view, is to just enjoy it for what it is and soak up everything it has to offer. Somethings will wow you, others will shock you and many things will just simply pass you by. One thing for sure, Athens will awaken your senses and keep you on your toes.
Our Bumble Verdict: Amazing City
Our sleepy spot: On a very clean car park in the middle of Piraeus, not glamorous but practical and clean. Half the price on nearby campsite.