5 April 2011

This. Is. Spartaaaaa! - Athens [Greece]

I guess I should really have a bit of a recap of Italy, seeing as I spent the best part of three weeks in the country. Cliché, but it really was amazing. Amazing people, food, sights, architecture, beaches... I could go on. Sure, I had my ups and downs, and a few 'interesting' experiences along the way, but it was all part of the journey.

So this was my last view of Italy as I sailed into the night, and the first views of Greece in the early morning.

The last time I wrote I was settling in for my huge journey across to Greece. Things went relatively well. I met a cool Argentinian guy called Alex, who I am now going to cruise the Greek Islands with. Other than that I just chilled out and watched a whole season of Entourage (I forgot how much I love that show!). My accommodation for the evening was a row of two seats in a room containing a couple of hundred, surrounded by coughing, snoring,and just generally loud people. I managed to get a decent amount of sleep, considering. What was great was the announcements that kept coming over the loud speaker, especially at 5am. Highlight of the journey.

That morning I shelled out the €3 to use the internet, only they didn't tell me it was going to be absolute crap, and keep dropping out. Pretty much unusable. I went to complain and had to go through three different people before someone would give me my measly €3 back. Bastards.

I arrived in Partas at about midday with the sun blazing. The first thing I noticed - a whole bunch of Greek soldiers with big guns. Alex and I managed to find our way to the rail station, only to find that the next train wasn't for three hours! So we went down to the bus station. The bus is more expensive and leaves you further from the city, but there was one leaving in 15 minutes, so we jumped on.

Along the way I got a text message from Nina, a Couch Surfing host in Athens. She was able to host me! Awesome!! We made a plan to meet up at 7pm that evening.

Alex and I got into Athens, and managed to find our way from the bus station situated way out in the whop-whops into central Athens. We first found a hostel for Alex, then went for a wander around Plaka - the oldest part of Athens. It does not feel like your traditional 'old town', there are wide, pedestrian only streets lined with tourist shops and cafes. It is quite a cool, but does not feel... authentic. We also checked out the Greek Parliament building and watched the changing of the guard. It was... weird. They have some crazy-ass costumes, and do some strange walking around and movements.

That night I met up with Nina and her partner Peter. They are both from Slovenia and have been living in Greece for a couple of years now. They are super cool, chilled out, easy going people. And amazingly helpful. Nina is a travel agent, and besides that they both love to travel the Greek Islands, so helped me out a huge amount with my plans, where to go and when, timetables, how to buy tickets etc. It was great!

That evening was fairly quiet. We had a nice dinner at home, before going out to one of Peter and Nina's friends for the best crepes in Athens. We got in at about 2am. I was shattered and passed out within about 10 minutes.

Day two started early. Too early for my poor body. I met Alex at 9am near the Acropolis. I must have been good this last week, because things have started to go my way - the first Sunday of the month all the historic sites are free. FREE!! So Alex and I strolled past the ticket desk, up the hill to one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world.

What can I say? It is pretty freakin' cool. There are many buildings in the area, but the Parthenon is the stand out. Built in the 5th century BC, and after hundreds of years there is still questions over how it was built. It is a massive structure, that sits on the edge of a plateau, overlooking the entire city of Athens. The view is breathtaking. I had no idea how big Athens is until I got up there. I tried to take some panoramic photos and failed miserably; it is just too big! So what you see below are about 1/5th of the entire city!

We spent the rest of the day checking out the rest of the ruins around Athens. While cool, not nearly as impressive as the Acropolis. A couple worth mentioning, though, are the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Panathinaiko Stadium. The temple is a set of massive columns, once dedicated to Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. It lies in ruins now, but the few that stand are seriously impressive. The Stadium - Athens hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Reconstructed from the remains of the ancient Greek stadium, the Panathinaiko is the only major stadium in the world built entirely of white marble. (Thanks wikipedia)

One interesting observation about Athens - they take the term 'market' to the next level. While they do have the traditional markets, located in specific areas, selling fruit, veg and meat, there is a whole other kind also. They occur on random streets around the city, and people just put their things on the footpath for sale. Infact they take up most of it, so there is almost nowhere to walk! The most interesting part is that you can buy ANYTHING here. Need some new tools? Hammer? Drill bits? No problem. Shoes? Clothes? How about a stethoscope? They have it. Microphone? Toothbrush? How about a stereo system or TV? Its all here. There was even a motorbike for sale.

We almost learned the hard way that you should not watch the guys doing card tricks on the street. They had a small table set up with three cards, only one with a face, the other two blank. They would shuffle them around, then if you were game enough, you would put down €50 and guess which one was the face card. Win and you get €100 back. But this is all just a front, they have guys in the crowd that are pickpockets, so the whole thing is designed to get a crowd around so they can steal your wallet. Luckily an older Greek guy warned us and we quickly moved on.

To wrap up the afternoon Alex and I decided to tackle Mount Lycabettus, a massive hill mountain in the centre of Athens. It was an enormous climb, and by the time I reached the top there was sweat coming from places I didn't know sweat could come from. But it was completely worth it. The views were even more spectacular than those from the Acropolis.

With that, we called it a day. The following day I met Alex (was really late, but thankfully I found him wandering around the station looking for me), and we travelled out to the port. We jumped on our Ferry and headed out into the Aegean sea, destination: Paros.

One final note, I freakin love Greek fast food. They have this type of kebab called a gyros. It is freakin' amazing, and so cheap! I'm practically living on them at the moment!

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