Month: September 2015

Hello Goodbye: Santorini

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Wednesday 23rd September
The next morning I had the headache I thoroughly deserved from the two tequilas. I took every minute I could to extend my time in bed and Kirstie kindly had the first shower. A shower revived me slightly and after we were packed made our way to breakfast. We caught the bus to the new port however the ferry was running late and we ended up waiting around for around 30 minutes.

Kirstie and I were sat at a table with Steve, Nik and Anna. I spent most of the journey trying to close my eyes without success, watching a documentary with no volume and Greek subtitles on shark attacks and a very brief trip to the upper deck to photograph Naxos an Island with some archaeological remains including what appeared to be a big arch to an old temple. Despite the fact we had left Mykonos late we flew through the ocean and arrived in Santorini on time.

It was lovely and sunny and we were given some free time to get a late lunch. Kyriaki led us up the hill to the small square and a group of us ordered a Gyros from a stand for a bargain price of €2.30. We returned back to the hotel where we had some more free time to enjoy the pool. Kirstie and I were there first but were soon joined by quite a few others including Josh, Mel, Kim, Anna and Nik. The water was quite cold but refreshing and eventually they opened the bar for us.

After having a quick shower, we all re-grouped and Kyriaki took us on an orientation walk around Fira the main settlement on Thira. Our first stop was a viewpoint that looked over the old port and towards the Caldera one of the main volcanoes. The view was particularly stunning and she took the time to tell us about the geology of the island and how it was created by various volcanic eruptions and earthquake.

We continued on and entered one of the large Greek Orthodox churches which was quite pretty on the inside. Kyriaki explained how all Greeks are named after saints and they receive small gifts on their saints day, comparing it to a second birthday. She then went on to explain the difference between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic and the historical reason for the split in which also caused the split between the East and West Roman Empires.

Next we boarded a bus where we went on a winery tour. The Venetsanos winery was apparently the first industrial winery in Santorini when it opened in 1949. The entrepreneur behind it had developed a cost effective clever method to get the grapes from the high ground to the harbour as wine by using chutes. For reasons I didn’t quite understand the winery had closed 2 years after opening and only reopened a few months ago.

After the tour we had the opportunity to try some samples. Apparently the wine was famous world wide when it was first developed and I believe the original recipes and methods are still used. I particularly liked the dessert wine, found the whites alright and forced the red down. The sun was just setting as we left but it was in the wrong direction to fully appreciate it.

We continued on to a traditional looking village called Megalochori where again we had a short walk before making our way to a restaurant called Feggera. I was feeling quite tired so initially I didn’t order any wine however this appeared to offend the waiter who said “May I ask sir, with all these lovely wines you aren’t ordering one?”. I ended up ordering one, hoping to feel better after the first sip but instead it went down as well as I expected so I gave half my glass to Kirstie.

We returned back to our hotel in Fira and as I was still feeling tired I went straight back to the hotel room and was probably asleep by 22.30.

Thursday 24th September
I felt slightly more refreshed by the time I woke up the following morning. Kirstie and I had signed up with a few others in the group to do a morning tour of the island with the largest volcano. We and those with us had also all decided to hire quad bikes for the afternoon so we had to go there first to pay in order for us to collect them

We boarded the boat and made our way out of the harbour towards the island and some nearby hot springs which were to be our first stop. The hot springs are a reminder that the volcano is only dormant and not extinct and the water was red because of the high levels of sulphor

Eventually we stopped and people started jumping off the side. I had brought my go pro along so lined up next to Kirstie. I had jumped off the boat in Portugal but for some reason I felt slightly nervous on this occasion not helped by some false jumps because people swam under our path just as we were about to do it. The water was cold and quite salty and we made our way to the hot springs.

I was mostly towards the back with Nik and Anna and we slowly made our way through the shallow water where it was easy to walk than swim in some parts. On the way back we tried to get a group picture and then, Josh, Aaron and I smeared some of the mud on our faces. The water had been so salty I’d initially found it difficult to swim deep enough to grab a handful because I kept bobbing back up.

We returned to the boat and continued our journey to the volcano. I saw a small looking hill with the Greek flag and naively believed it to be the summit, which I admit was very naive considering the eruption of the volcano was partly responsible for creating what is now Santorini. It was only when we reached a path to the hill that we saw the summit of the main crater. Apparently 1.6 million people visit Santorini every summer and even though we were visiting outside of the main season the island still felt full of tour groups.

We climbed to the upper crater and once we were there our guide provided with some fairly interesting historical and geological facts and myths. This included the belief that the famous City of Atlantis In Plato’s ‘Republic’ was destroyed by a tsunami caused by the eruption in Santorini. The view was faultless with perfect blue skies and one land mass that resembled the head of a crocodile however after a few minutes at the top we had to return back to the boat.

We returned back to Fira where we had gyro’s from the same place as the day before. Daina, Shanell, Nick, Kim, Kirstie and I agreed after filling up with petrol to meet at the hotel and to leave as a group. On our way we saw Fallon and Jayde who decided to join us and as they’d already spent a morning on the roads agreed to lead the way in our search for Red Rock Beach. Kirstie was our driver and as it felt like we were speeding along my baseball cap caught by a gust of wind lifted off my head and disappeared before I realised what had happened.

As we approached a junction we saw Nik and Anna by the side of road and a discarded quad bike. They explained that Mel’s had broken down at the bottom of a steep hill but because it was a one way road Sarah hadn’t been able to drive down to give her a lift up. Instead Sarah had to walk down to find Mel and at one point we were notified by some passers by in a car that they weren’t far away. The rest of us also waited with Nik and Anna and it showed how tight-knit the group had become in a short space of time

Eventually we were all together and ready to continue our adventure. We saw a sign for Red Beach and then shortly after when we saw Caldera beach we turned in. It was a steep path down and when we got to the bottom the sand was not red nor could I see why it had the name. Anna and I checked in the small cafe and we were actually on the opposite side of a narrow section of the island to where we wanted to be. Kirstie is used to driving dirt bikes back home so had no trouble getting up the hill but was trying to put the fear of God in to me by thrashing the Quad from side to side to keep up the momentum.

We led our convoy the rest of the way to Red beach before we climbed over some rocks to an observation point looking over the beach below. I hadn’t seen any pictures so whilst I had obviously expected a red tinted cliff but not something quite so vibrant and stunning. We went for a swim in the water which wasn’t quite as nice as I expected because the red ‘sandy’ beach was actually formed of pebbles and there were loads of tiny bits of seaweed in the water which meant I was covered when I got back out.

After leaving the red beach we went our seperate ways with some heading back to the hotel whilst Kim, Nick, Kirstie and I drove to black beach which we found without to much difficulty. The water was much clearer nicer but the beach was still formed of small volcanic pebbles and the cliff wasn’t as specactular as at red beach however the area we went to was a pleasant setting.

We didn’t stay to long because we wanted to see the sunset at Oia and hadn’t allowed to much room for error and to get there because it was pretty much the opposite side of the island. The distance wasn’t far (though it looked it on the map) and whilst it felt like we were doing 100mph in reality we were doing well probably doing a max of 15. As we stormed along we thought we were taking a shortcut across the island because the map wasn’t overly clear and because the signs were in Greek.

Unfortunately it wasn’t a short cut. We went higher and higher, obtaining some lovely views of the island but after around 10 minutes which we couldn’t really afford to lose we could go no higher and worse, the road was a dead end. We had arrived at the highest point of the island which in any other circumstance would have been a moment to enjoy. This however was not that moment, and we really were now in a race against time to be back.

We raced back down and followed the signs to Fira and then to Oia however again we had bad luck because it turned out their were two routes to Oia through Fira and the one we took was longer. It was evident as we approached the outskirts of Oia that the sun was beginning to set and so when we had a clear, unobstructed view we found a fairly secluded spot to enjoy it. It may not have been the postcard picture across Oia which is so famous but it was still very pretty to witness.

After the sun had disappeared we continued to Oia however it was incredibly busy and in hindsight we should probably have arrived at the main viewing area an hour or even earlier beforehand. By the time we arrived back in Fira it was dark but we found quad car hire store before walking back to the hotel and getting changed for our final meal with the rest of the group.

When we arrived at dinner we were all aware that Nik and Anna two members of the group were not present. At some point during the meal Kyriaki told us the news that they were about to arrive and Nik had proposed. From day one “The Doctors” had been easy going and we were all thrilled for them so needed little encouragement to clap and cheer loudly when they came through the door to join us.

After dinner we went to one final bar where I think I had what I considered the best pina colada ever and danced with Nik, Anna and others to celebrate their engagement which included a few moves inside a cage. Throughout the night members of the group slowly left, starting with those who had a midnight ferry to Kos later that evening. Eventually Kirstie and I returned to the hotel about 1am with Aaron, Daina and Lindsay and as we made our way home we all agreed to meet up in London.

Friday 25th September
With the tour sadly officially over we finally had a bit of a chance for a lie in except my pedometer still went off at 7.30am. We had arranged to meet some of the group that hadn’t already left for Kos for breakfast at 9.30am. Throughout the tour new people had joined us at different stages and as we said our goodbyes to those we had known since day one and those that we had only met a couple of days it seemed the majority of us had bonded surprisingly quickly.

Kirstie and I walked in to the main town towards the Cable car so we could catch it down to the old port. It hadn’t even occurred to us it might be busy but luckily it wasn’t that busy and we ended up being in the front carriage going down. At the bottom there wasn’t much to do and the markets weren’t overly exciting but our only reason for going had been to ride one of the donkeys back to the top.

The donkey i was on seemed to want to take the inside corner and took no prisoners as it sought to make its way to the top taking out unsuspecting tourists that tried to block its path to take photos. All I could do was apologise but ultimately it did what it wanted and I could do nothing. It seemed to want the lead at all costs and whenever it slowed down to let one of the others catch up it quickened the pace.

We wondered through town and I got myself a souvenir tshirt and as we walked past a pub heard a voice shout out which turned out to be Jamie. He told us that him and Josh were watching the rugby (league) match between Brisbane Broncho’s vs Sydney Roosters NRL game. Brisbane scored within the first minute and it was shaping up to be an exciting game though after 20 minutes the amount of AFL fans meant the landlord switched to the game between Hawthorne Hawkes and Fremantle.

We had to prepare to catch our ferry anyway so returned to hotel via a third consecutive gyros lunch. As we prepared to leave the hotel we said goodbye to Jamie and Josh for the third time in the day before we walked to bus station, and caught the bus to ferry with time to relax at the port. As we waited in the line an english guy behind us started up a conversation and I quickly realised he was a Luton Town fan. We both agreed that it would be nice if they joined Watford in the premier league so we could enjoy a proper top flight derby day again as it’s been nearly 10 years since we last played a meaningful competitve game due to how far they have fallen.

As our boat arrived the visitors arriving disembarked and the port became a flurry of commotion. “Tourist information over here” a frantic shout of “Shuttle bus, shuttle bus, leaving now”, one man holding a laminated sheet of cars quietly muttering “Rent a car, Rent a car here” and one guy resorting to “Come in, come in, just come in”. This repeated for a few minutes and such was the disorganised racket they attracted next to no one. Even those looking confused and possibly in need of help hurried by. We boarded the ferry and started our long journey back to Athens.

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Brutal Planet – Back in Athens (Epilogue)

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Friday 25th September Continued
We boarded the ferry and as were in the general economy section we didn’t have airline style seats but instead found a comfy sofa where we made a nest for the next 8 hours. The journey initially seemed to pass quite quickly but as the hours dwindled by I realised I had cabin fever and nothing could keep me occupied. I tried deleting photos from the holiday, having a nap, writing my blog and finally stretching my legs but ultimately nothing worked. If anyone wants to know how I felt watch Muppet Treasure Island and listen to the Cabin Fever song.Once back in Athens we found our hotel which was within a 5 minute walking distance of the port. After the ferry ride it was a relief to have somewhere so close and I told Kirstie how great she was for finding it. It looked alright from the outside and the staff at reception were friendly enough and we were given a room key. We made our way upstairs and to our room. If there had been a camera on us our facial expressions would surely have been priceless. As we opened the door there was general clutter in a long hall way but as we approached the area for sleeping I wondered if prisons were nicer.

Still, we were tired and it had two beds. Kirstie got out her sleeping bag, which i’d mocked her for bringing and I pulled what was little more than a small sheet over me.

Saturday 26th September
It was quite fortunate the room was so horrible because at least it meant we had no reason to stay and every motivation to get up and get ready. We both attempted to have a shower which involved squatting because it wasn’t possible to raise the shower head and cleaned our teeth as the basin wobbled away from the wall. At some point decades ago it probably had been quite nice and perhaps this was the most obvious example of the impact of the struggling economy.

After leaving we found an internet cafe so Kirstie could print her boarding pass however as we were in Greece it was initially out of order and we had to wait about 20 minutes before the owners son turned up to sort the computers out. We were still in decent time to catch the two trains we needed to get to the airport and made our way to Piraeus the station nearest the port.

There were no attendants serving and the ticket machine was a lot older than the one we had used at the airport so the English information was limited. Perhaps there is little need for investment, the station didn’t seem that busy and I suppose most tourists that arrive in Athens are whisked away by their tour groups so don’t have to attempt the journey in the opposite direction alone like us.

We got the adult ticket that said it covered ‘the entire network’ however once we were on the train to the airport we saw a sign that a special tariff applied. We hoped that if a ticket collector came they would understand that the ticket was not available at Piraeus station and as it was a genuine error they would let us pay the difference or at worst purchase a new ticket.

We weren’t far from the airport, probably less than two minutes when two officious and threatening looking ticket collectors did eventually arrive. Far from being sympathetic they proceeded to write out a fine, forced us to hand over our passports and to sign the form. Most of the fine was ‘Greek to me’ with one small paragraph in English unlikely to cover 9 long Greek paragraphs. The lady in the ticket office wasn’t any more helpful and so we ended up asking at the airport where tourist information kindly interpreted the form and directed us to the post office where we paid the fine.

i later received something which could be interpreted as an apology from the transport network even though the fine stood and there is more I could add about I how I feel towards Athens however it will sound petty. Suffice to say it was a bitter end to what had been a great holiday and a reminder that you are particularly vulnerable when travelling abroad. It was silly to be naive and I will be more careful in future especially in cities which are poor and may target tourists.

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When you were Young: Mykonos

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Monday 21st September

We were meant to have had a wake up call in order for the group to have time for a quick breakfast before our ferry. Fortunately Kirstie didn’t take the term ‘wake up call’ literally like I had done so because we set our alarms it didn’t matter that we were not notified. Some of those in the group were however running quite late as a result of the miscommunication.

After arriving at the ferry Kirstie and I made our way to our seats. A lady was sitting next to us but had placed a hat on one of the seats saying her sister was already sitting there. Eventually she let us take our seats however almost immediately tried to push her way through the row despite the available row width being less than a theatre or sports stadium. Kirstie and I scrambled out to let her past and took our seats again. Soon the lady returned with sister in tow. They said something in a language which was lost on me before mercifully she left and never returned so we ended up with a spare seat. The remainder of the journey was uneventful and due to the early start I mostly slept as did Kirstie who somehow curled up on the seat like a cat.

We checked in to our hotel in Mykonos after meeting our new guide Kyriaki and checked in to our hotel. The group was split up and we were in the one with Nik and Anna “The Doctors” and Aaron and Lindsay. Sometimes it can take a while for a group to click especially if there are groups travelling together (because they tend to stick together) but we were quite fortunate that even early on people were open and interacting. This was evident when a large group of us decided to get lunch and a couple of beers together during our free time.

After enjoying a hearty Greek salad we decided to go to the beach where the owner of the cafe we’d eaten at let us use the deck chairs for free. We took a bottle of Rose with us and lounged in the heat although it wasn’t quite the glorious sunshine I had expected. In fact on our arrival it had rained, apparently the first drops on the island since April. Eventually we all returned to our rooms for a shower before we met back in reception to catch the bus in to the old harbour in the main town.

The old port was quite pretty and Kyriaki took us on a ‘orientation’ walk. This was an opportunity for her to provide some information about the island and to show us some of the main sites which included the famous Little Venice area, the Windmills and a pretty church. Mykonos gained its name due to its first ruler, Mykons, the son of the god Apollo in Greek mythology and is also said to have been the location of a great battle between Zeus and Titans.

After the walk we went for dinner where I had stuffed peppers as a starter and Moussaka as a main course. I was feeling quite tired and would have been quite happy going to a bar where we could chat a bit more but we ended up going to a night club. I hadn’t really drunk enough and I think I was just having an off night and more reserved than usual because I was carrying my camera. As I’d booked on a early tour to Delos I was relieved when the majority of the group decided to call it an early night and to get the midnight bus home.

Tuesday 22nd September
Kirstie and I made our way to breakfast and sat on an adjacent table to Nik and Anna. Josh soon joined us despite staying out until the early hours of the morning but his friend Mel was apparently still asleep in bed. We ate breakfast until the bus arrived and then left for the old port to catch a boat to Delos now a small uninhabited island which had once been home to a ancient town of approximately 30,000 and significant in Greek mythology.

It was incredibly windy on the deck of the boat and as we were taking a couple of group photos Niks hat blew off but thankfully was caught by a crew member on the quay rather than heading in to the sea. We escaped inside due to the wind and because whilst it wasn’t raining the ominous clouds from the day before remained. Fortunately the sea wasn’t rough and we arrived at the port with no further dramas.

We started by walking towards the Theatre but without a guide or displays it was difficult to know the significance of what we could see. Kirstie was however more likely to be correct with her suggestion of shops and her observation that they were of a similar appearance to those in Pompeii however we all laughed at Stevie’s jokey prison island concept.

We arrived at the theatre where I tried to imagine how it would have looked in its prime when in 600BC it would have been home to a new entertainment phenomenon “the play”. Stages in the style of the Ancient Greeks are still used as are their themes of love, comedy and tragedy though masks to express emotions are now mostly discarded.

The first significant structure was the House of Dolphins which had the remains of mosaic but beyond that weren’t sure of the historical importance. We continued upwards, up a steep hill which according to our map led to the Sanctuary of Zeus. None of us had appropriate footware and clouds slowly started to release their contents whilst we also began to understand why the Islands name is translated as ‘Island of the Wind’. Eventually we arrived at the top and the view of remains below felt worth the effort as it allowed us to grasp the scale. It was quite a small island and it must have been quite densely populated.

We followed a slightly different path down and came to a temple with a headless statue which Josh had seen on a postcard so went about successfully creating the image. The sun was finally starting to disperse the clouds by the time we reached the quay. We still had plenty of time to explore the other half of the island but went in search of the cafe and museum first.

The centre of the entrance to the museum contained a large black table which Nik instinctively placed his bag of fruit on and a lady quickly emerged explaining it was actually an artefact. Nik and I were obviously embarrassed but once we’d apologised and she’d gone sheepishly joked to each other that he was just returning it to its original use from thousands of years ago – to store Greek grown apricots and plumbs. On our exit we noticed a computer displaying CCTV footage from at least 20 different cameras around the Island which obviously made sense because of the historical significance of the remains.

After leaving the museum I spotted the ‘Avenue of Lions’ and we followed a path which took us past a few other remains first which included a temple and the Sacred Lake. The Avenue of Lions was dedicated to Apollo by the inhabitants of the Island around 600 BC and reminded me of the avenues of sphinxes in Egypt.

We made our way back to quay and as it was less windy I sat on the top deck in the sun listening to music. I felt very relaxed though perhaps not quite as much as Steve who fell asleep. After arriving back in Mykonos we slowly made our way through the town from the port towards the Windmills passing through Little Venice in the process. We ate at a organic restaurant suggested by Josh where the taste of my dolmades could not be questioned though they did fail on my beer order. First they missed me out completely, after a while they brought over two beers, one of which was the wrong size then compounded the mistake by charging me for three including.

We were slightly late in meeting Kyriaki at the old port bus stop but it didn’t seem to matter and we joined the rest of the group on the coach. There were a few new faces but no time for introductions as we drove to Paradise Beach, one of the most famous beaches on the island. I had expected the sand to be fine and golden as it had been in Valencia but it was actually quite rough and not overly pleasant to walk on. I took a sun lounger and belly flopped in to the sea only to discover it wasn’t the warm feeling Mediterranean sea I had imagined from the postcards.

Fallon and Kirstie were already taking a dip and I attempted to get a video of us diving under water on my go pro. I returned to my sun lounger and ordered a mojito where I slowly ‘sun baked’ as the clouds had parted to reveal blue sky and sun. After a while I was heated up enough to take a second dip before I ordered a Dragon cocktail and dried out again. By the time I’d finished the “beach party” was beginning at the bar we were ordering drinks from.

In the high season I imagine it must get quite lively but it was mostly just us which was also quite nice because we could be silly on the stage and break more ice. Steve, Kirstie, Anna and Nik were often seen to be on there trying to learn the moves from the instructor, though I had a few goes and tried with moderate success to spin Fallon and Kyriaki. Towards the end I was alone doing my increasingly out dated signature ‘Man on a mobile phone whilst DJing’ dance move as Kirstie clicked away on my camera. I then decided to jump off the stage towards her and she caught the perfect image of me in mid flight.

Nik, Anna, Fallon and I then decided to get a tequila each which probably reflected how merry I was getting. A miscommunication with the bar staff meant we ended up with 2 each, one with “good” tequila and one with “bad” according to Nik. Personally they both tasted as disgusting as each other in my opinion. Shortly after we boarded the “party bus” back to the hotel. Kirstie tried to start a singing competition with the Kiwi lads that had joined the tour and I assisted in belting out John Farnham to ensure a hands down Aussie victory.

I’m not sure why I then was volunteered in to singing solo and after a not particularly great rendition of Wonderwall I returned with Hey Jude. I had no intention of singing the whole song and instead just shouted / Sang “Naaa, Na, Na, Na-Na Na, La-La-La Laaa” hoping someone would shout Hey Jude as I fell silent and pointed to ‘my’ audience. Thankfully Aaron obeyed as did one or two others. Unfortunately despite an attempt by Kirstie to rouse the Americans in to singing Cotton Eye Joe my performance could not be bettered (in my own mind I should add…)

The Greek culture is about late dinners so we briefly returned to the hotel before we caught the bus back in town. I was sitting near two of the new girls Mel and Anna. As they felt they needed to integrate quickly in to the group we agreed to skip all of the standard getting to know you talk. At some point it began to rain and even though they appeared to be under cover drips made it through. In contrast I didn’t realise how close I was to water gushing down just behind me until I stepped back to go to the toilet soaking my chair in the process.

The food had been nice enough but in my merry state I was still hungry. Fortunately I was in the country famous for a kebab nicer than a kebab called a Gyros which I’d never had but been told to try. Nik wanted one as well so we ordered one before joining some of the others in a bar. The music was loud enough without being a conversation stopper and after a few more drinks most of us left for the midnight bus.

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Life is Life: Athens

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Going to Greece coincided with me moving from Balham back to Ealing. After work I went back home and made sure everything that was going to Ealing was definitely packed and that I had everything for Greece. The original plan had been for Kirstie and I to have a ‘slumber party’ at Stansted airport however Kirstie’s very kind colleague had offered to give us a lift which was gratefully accepted so instead I made my way to Greenwich. We ended up having a late night at her colleagues leaving do, where I’d been made to feel welcome (despite gate crashing) so we were both quite tired the next morning.

Saturday 19th September

The drive to the airport was trouble free and even though we were checked in Ryan Air required Kirstie to complete a visa check and we had a long wait not helped by a very disorganised group directly in front. Then after passing through security we had another long wait because the number of bags needing to be checked by security were beyond the capabilities of one person. The guy working the counter was friendly and whilst Kirstie was adamant she’d removed all her liquids a last minute deodorant addition had sneaked through her net. When we arrived at the departure gate we were told our bags had to be put in the hold because there wasn’t enough space in the over head lockers.

Our final long wait was in Athens when Kirstie had to go through a different passport control. We agreed to meet at the baggage carousel to collect our bags and once Kirstie arrived we made our way to the train. Unfortunately we only just missed the one we needed but we still arrived at the hotel with enough time to have a shower and to freshen up before our pre tour meeting. As I relaxed I made the ‘mistake’ of checking the Watford score just as Igalo scored and when we went 2.0 up shortly after, the emotions really started to build. When Newcastle made it 2.1 I feared the worst and for 35 excruciating minutes I cradled my mobile as my mind became increasingly torn between the tour meeting and thinking of my dad cheering the team on at St James Park without me.

It was when we went up to the roof terrace that I got my first sight of one of the most recognisable ancient structures, the Parthenon. My breath caught in my throat as I saw the structure which (arguably) best represents ancient Greece. It wasn’t quite the picture postcard image I imagined but perched high above the city it must have been a stunning sight before it was destroyed over the centuries. Returning inside Kirstie and I had to quickly change rooms because she’d noticed ‘a water feature’ in the shower (water dripping from a light). Once we had moved our things we joined the others in reception for a pre-dinner guided walk.

After leaving the hotel we made our way to Monastiraki square a small busy market square where we could see the acropolis in the distance. We walked up one of the narrow busy streets where we came to another square named near temple dedicated to the God Hephaestus. Carrying on we arrived at the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos before I realised we were back at the street near the hotel.

I had built up quite an appetite because I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the choice of food looked so enticing I found it challenging to make a quick decision. Ultimately I followed Kirstie’s advice and tried to go for something I wouldn’t have had back home so opted for zucchini stuffed with Mince and rice. When it came out it wasn’t how I expected it to look however it tasted good with the Mythos beer. We were then given a dessert of Greek yogurt and honey which was particularly delicious. It really made me realise that the Greek yogurt I buy back home isn’t as good as the real thing.

Kirstie and I were both slightly torn as to whether to stay out with Steve who had arrived late having just flown in from New York, Dan, Nick, Fallon, Jade and Alyssa travelling together from Perth and a family from the Netherlands. Kirstie and I both knew we needed a good nights sleep and there would be plenty more opportunities to drink so instead opted to take some night photos of the Parthenon before returning to our new room which thankfully didn’t include a water feature.

Sunday 20th September
I felt fairly refreshed when I woke up and after a shower we both went down for breakfast where I admit I was pleasantly surprised at the range on offer. After making myself a ham and cheese toastie I grabbed a croissant and what I assumed was a mini pain au chocolate. When I bit in to this pastry the taste caught me by surprise and I realised it was actually savoury with unidentified filling but I assumed spinach and a soft cheese.

After breakfast we returned quickly to the room and then to reception where we waited for Vicki and the rest of the group to join us. After leaving the hotel we turned left, even though we had been told the night before never to go that way because it led to a dodgy area. The first building of note we stopped at was the stock exchange which whilst I imagine was fairly new had been built in a classical style. As we left an old man shouted something and Vicki told us he’d said “That’s where they steal money”.

We carried on walking and came to the National Library of Greece, the National University of Athens and the Academy of Athens. Outside the Neo Style academy, rather appropriately, were statues of Plato and Socrates. Together, along with Aristotle they laid the foundations of Western philosophy, science and mathematics. Plato and Socrates died nearly 2500 years ago and whilst I am sure many of their ideas have been debunked with technology their opinions and ideas are still studied and quoted.

When we left it was nearly 11am and Vicki quickly hurried us along so we could see the ‘Changing of Guards’ for the unknown soldier in front of the Parliament building. It was a lot busier than I had expected considering we were visiting in the low season and we didn’t have a clear view of the ceremony. After it was over and the crowds dispersed a few of us got pictures with the guards who looked pretty tough despite their clown-esque boots (Tsarouchia). One or two tourists from another group got a bit close prompting the guard to strike the ground with his bayonet and another that did an army salute was equally reprimanded!

Next we walked through the Palace Gardens which took us past the zoo and also gave us a glimpse of the president house before we arrived at the birthplace and spiritual home of the Olympics the Panathenaic Stadium. Originally built out of wood it was rebuilt from marble in 329BC and by 140 AD could hold 50,000 people. The remains were excavated and renovated for use in 1870 and again in 1896 so it could be used in the birth of the modern Olympics. It was then renovated again so it could have a symbolic role in the 2004 Olympics where it was used as the end of the marathon. Vicki explained that the word “Marathon” commemorated the victory of the Greeks over the Persians when Pheidippides ran all the way from the settlement Marathon to tell Athens of the victory before he died of exhaustion.

After all the walking we had a brief stop to rest and have a drink at a coffee shop. The poor waitress seemed to have a constant look of anguish but I suppose I looked the same when I worked at McDonald’s. In fact I’d have broken down and cried if a big tour group had turned up and didn’t listen when I called out the orders. I had planned to have a Greek coffee but instead went for a Frape with ice cream which was more refreshing in the heat.

It was in the afternoon that we really began to explore the remains of Ancient Athens. It started with the impressive Hadrian’s Arch, positioned in front of the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and through which you could see the Parthenon on top of the Acropolis in the background. The Temple of Olympian Zeus was completed in 132AD having taken 632 years to build. Sadly due to the conversion to Christianity and having been damaged beyond repair by war it was abandoned between 267 and 425. Over the next centuries it was quarried for material and what had been envisaged as the greatest temple in the ancient world is now just a few pillars.

Heading towards the Acropolis we made our way through the crowded streets of Plaka and passed the the Winds which was unfortunately under restoration so we couldn’t see it and the ancient Agara (market) which as the centre of Ancient Athens is arguably the birthplace of democracy (meaning ‘power from the people’). Vicki explained it was the ancient Athenians who created a new form of government whereby they could choose and replace leaders because they were tired of being ruled by tyrants.

The path soon turned in to a steep climb so I had a little photo stop (breather) when I had a nice view of city and could see Temple of Hephaestus we’d seen the night before down below. Eventually we came to an area of rocks where there were two routes, one a set of steps, and the other a short but steep scramble over the rocks. I scrambled up over the slippery rocks which had been smoothed from all the people climbing the path over the centuries however at the top I was greeted with a stunning panoramic view of the city.

Vicki wasn’t allowed in the in the Acropolis itself so we all made our own way round at our own pace. The first major set of ruins was the Monument of Agrippa followed by the Shrine of Athena Hygieia. There was also the Erechtheion Temple which included 6 female figures ‘holding up’ the roof. Apparently only replicas remained and 5 of the originals were in the Acropolis museum and one in the British museum.

I have to admit I personally felt the ruins, especially of the Parthenon were quite underwhelming not that I’m trying to sound blasé about seeing them because I was thrilled at that. It’s just whilst historically the Parthenon is such an iconic structure its surrounding location kind of resembled a demolition site. It was also quite obvious where restorations had taken place unlike other ancients sites I’ve visited that attempt to disguise them.

After we’d wondered around the whole site and with some time left before we were due back at the hotel Kirstie and I went in search of the museum however the signs weren’t particularly good. After ending up where we had started we decided to go home via the Ancient Agara. I think it is fair to say we were both slightly disappointed at the number and state of excavations in comparison to those in Rome. We briefly called in to a free museum there but didn’t stay long.

Instead we returned to Monastiraki square and wondered around the various shops selling souvenirs. After we had finished wondering around we returned to the hotel room so we could get ready for dinner. As a group we then caught the underground train to one of the nicer suburbs so that we could have dinner. After we had eaten we went to a bar where Nik and I had a shot of Ouzo whilst Kirstie and some of the others had Tequila however as we had an early start no one suggested going for further drinks and we all returned to the hotel.

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