Plan for the Day1 and Day2
We would be flying into Athens from Singapore and our plan was to spend two full days exploring Athens using public transport and by going on foot. Three must-visit attractions in Athens were:
3. New Acropolis Museum
Singapore to Athens
We flew on Etihad Airway from Singapore to Athens. I had chosen Etihad Airways because the timing was good, we left Singapore around 8.20 pm and reached Athens the next morning at 6 am local time. This gave us a full day of sightseeing.
The first leg of the flight was to Abu Dhabi and the flight time was 7.5 hours. The transit stop was 2 hours which was a good break for us to stretch our legs and grab a cup of good cafe latte at the transit lounge. It was a relief to leave the confine space of the plane and come out for a walk.
Abu Dhabi Airport was beautiful in its own way, it was a small airport with two levels. The airport was crowded with people and the place was chaotic and noisy.
The second leg of the flight was from Abu Dhabi to Athens and the flight duration was 5.5 hours. Immediately after we went on board we settled down to sleep as we wanted to wake up fresh when we touched down in Athens.
Germanos store at Athens Airport
Once we exited immigration at Athens Airport, we went in search for a Germanos store as I wanted to purchase a cosmote data sim card. Unfortunately the only Germanos store in the airport was located in the departure hall after a security gate. Anyway I tried my luck by asking the security staff if they would let me go into the departure hall to pick up a data sim card at the Germanos store. Surprising they allowed, a security officer escorted me all the way to the store and back.
The Germanos store was opened 24 hours, unfortunately the staff informed me that they would sell the cosmote data sim card only after 8 am, that would be the time they could register and activate the card. I did not want to wait 1.5 hour so I left empty handed.
Airport to Athens
It was very convenient to get from the airport to Athens by subway. First we needed to drop our luggage before we could start our sightseeing. Leonidas, the landlord who rent out his apartment to us for two nights, had agreed to let us checked into his apartment in the morning.
It was already in my backup plan to leave our luggage at Athens Studios, a backpacker place that provided luggage storage at €3 a day if Leonidas had not allowed us to check in early.
The train trip to Athens took about 1 hour and we alighted at Station Kepameikoy (Kerameikos). From the station we walked for about 400 metres to Leonidas’s apartment. It was early about 8 am and along the way all the stores were still closed. Since it was Saturday I was not sure if the stores were closed because it was too early or it was a weekend.
We had no problem finding our way to Leonidas’s apartment as I had already used google map to look up the apartment and its road at the street level. I had also printed several photos to help me find the apartment.
Acropolis was about 1.3 km from our apartment and it would be nearer and faster to walk through the estate to Acropolis than to go by subway.
Our apartment was at the start of Iraklidon Street, as we walked down the road it narrowed into a cobbled street which was closed to vehicles. An old disused tram track ran along its length.
On both sides of the street were low four to five storey apartments and many trees were planted on the walkways. The ground level of these apartments were made up of shops, al fresco cafes and restaurants. The street projected a cosy ambience. We walked past many cafes that were still closed. Finally we saw one that was opened for business and went in to get a cafe latte before proceeding.
The end of Iraklidon Street joined a bigger cobbled street, Apostolou Palou, this street had many outdoor white tents. This place looked like a setting for a huge al fresco cafe. There were many restaurants on these street too. Then I saw it! The Acropolis far away on a hill top. Now I could understand why there were so many al fresco restaurants, this must be one of the places where you could dine and admire the night scene of The Acropolis.
As we approached a front gate at the base of The Acropolis we were so surprised to see so many tourists crowding around the ticketing booth. Apparently the way we came from was not the typical route taken by tourists that was why it was so quiet through out our walk here.
After purchasing two tickets at €12 per person we walked up the slope leading to the entrance of The Acropolis. It was about 10 am in the morning and the place was jammed pack with tourists.
The Acropolis sat on a flat topped rock that rose above the city of Athens. Acro(Akro) = edge, polis = city, so acropolis meant city on the edge. It was a scared place where ancient Athenians worshiped their gods and goddesses.
The Acropolis was built to honored Athena, goddess of wisdom and victory. Athena was the patroness of Athens which was named after the goddess.Before reaching the grand entrance we via right onto a side path that led to the ruins of Odeum of Herodes Atticus. This was an ancient theatre, it had a deep slope with many steps of seats leading down to the stage in the centre. Behind the stage was a three storey high stone wall with many arches. This theatre could house 5000 audience in its hay days used to have a wooden roof which was completed gone now.
Standing at the top step of Odeum I could see the city of Athens behind the stone wall that stretched all the way to the mountains in the horizon. The houses that made up the city look like white matchbox houses packed tightly together. I could already imagine how the scene in front of me would looked like at night when each house was lighted, it would be a land lighted up like a “Christmas tree”.
We walked back to ‘grand entrance’ which was still packed with tourists. The crowd was getting larger by the minutes. I could understand why it was called the Propylaea (grand entrance) because while climbing up the steps, as I looked at the huge structures all around and in front of me, as I looked up to the beautiful wide blue sky, I felt so tiny and so mortal, I felt as though I was arriving at the doorsteps of the palaces of gods and goddess.
On the right side of the steps, standing on a protruding piece of rock was a small temple. It was the Temple of Athena Nike. It had on its front four columns and another four behind. This temple was dedicated to the victory of the Athenians during the Persian wars and especially during the battle of Marathon and the sea battle of Salamis. Though this temple was small, its design gave me an impression of elegance which helped it to standout among the larger structures around it.
After crossing the grand entrance we walked onto an open compound. There were several complexes of which the largest one was Parthenon that sat in the center of the compound. This temple was dedicated to goddess Athena and was built around 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power.
Like all other grand monuments, its purpose changed through the century, it became a church dedicated to Virgin Mary in the final decade of sixth century AD, and in the early 1460s it was used as a mosque after the Ottoman conquest.
On the left side of the Parthenon was another complex, Erechtheion. This temple was very unusual, it had two porches.
The one at the north west corner was supported by tall Ionic columns and the other at the south west corner was supported by six massive female statues, the famous Caryatids. All in we spent about 3 hours exploring Acropolis and by about early afternoon we were ready to move on to our next destination.
Plaka District of Athens
Plaka was the old historical neighbourhood of Athens. It consisted of a labyrinthines of streets of neoclassical architecture. Due to its proximity to the Acropolis it wass also know as the “Neighbourhood of Gods.”
The best way to explore this “most attractive district” of Athens would be on foot as its narrow streets and alleys would not be reachable by public transport. There were several attractions in the Plaka district that we intended to visit and they included the Arch of Hadrian, Hadrian’s Library and lastly Monastiraki Square.
Arch of Hadrian & Temple of Olympian Zeus
From Acropolis we walked for about one km to another monument, Arch of Hadrian. The weather was cool, the cobble walkway was wide and shady so the 1 km walk was relatively easy. Along the way we passed the New Acropolis Museum, a very modern looking building which we planned to visit the next day.
The Arch of Hadrian was a constructed in 131 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as part of a wall separating the old and new cities of Athens.
This arch was about 18 metre high and was supposed to be part of a long wall, but only the arch was left today. Behind the arch was another ruin, Temple of Olympian Zeus. We did not go into the temple ground as we saw a fence around it and we thought we would have to purchase entrance tickets to go in. Looking at the ruin of the temple with only a few columns left standing, we thought it was not worth paying for the entrance tickets. So we only viewed the temple from behind the fence.
It was a pity that we did not know that our entrance tickets to Acropolis could also be used for entry into the Temple of Olympian Zeus. At the back of our tickets were printed some Greek words that we did not understand so we had no idea that the tickets were a package deal to enter six temples in Athens.
After the arch we crossed the main road again and walked down the street that was directly opposite the arch. It was a surprise when we stumbled upon a very touristy street, Adrianou Street.
It was a very delightful street with rows of three to four storied houses on both sides. The ground level was made out of shops selling all sorts of goods like clothes, jewellery, hats, shoes, scarves, leather bags, leather jackets.
The street looked very vibrant and cheery with many tourists walking and shopping about. The prices of the goods were not cheap definitely marked up to earn tourist dollars.
We took a right turn into a one of the smaller side streets. This side street had many cafes and restaurants on both sides. Most of these restaurants had both indoor and outdoor seating.
Lunch time was probably over because there was not too many customers. We walked a short distance into the street passing a few restaurants. As we walked past Estia, the waiter invited us to take a seat. We hesitated and looked around to see what the other customers were eating.
Two tourists sitting nearby gave us their thumbs up and told us that we must try Estia’s lamb stew. We were hungry but not sure what to eat and which restaurant to choose, so seeing the “thumbs up” was good enough for us to pick Estia.
We sat down and had our first Greek meal. My husband and I were small eaters, we ordered a plate of stew lamb and a Greek salad to share. The stew lamb was very soft and delicious. The salad came with two huge slabs of white goat cheese. The cheese was very nice but two slabs was too much for us so we did not finish them. The bill came up to about €30 inclusive of taxes and bread and butter that came with the meal. The restaurant provided free wifi services for its customer so after the meals we sat back to read our emails and surf the internet for awhile before we left the place.
We continued our walk down Adrianou street and after about another 800 metres we reached Hadrian’s Library. What was left of the library was a row of Corinthian columns, a stretch of its outer wall and the foundation of the complex. By its name I figured it was built by Emperor Hadrian.
The library was built in AD 136 as a cultural complex, with lecture halls, a transcription room, a library hall and possibly even a theater.
Looking at the size of the columns, it was hard to imagine how this complex was built in the olden days when there was no heavy machinery. Who were the people that built and design the complex? Were they slaves or craftmen? How long did it take to build this huge complex? And how many people were involved in its construction?
Walking just a little down the road we reached Monastiraki Square. The square was packed with people mainly locals. Many makeshift stores were set up on the square selling all sort of things. Standing prominently at one corner of the square was a huge mosque, Tsisdarakis Mosque which was built in 1759. From the square we could see the Acropolis behind the mosque.
A number of streets branched out from the square, one of the streets held the famous Monstiraki Flea Market. My concept of a flea market was one that sold junks, antiques and used goods. But the shops on the street were not selling used goods. They were conventional shops selling day to day products like clothing, shoes, slippers etc.
I found this street too crowded, rowdy and noisy and not as pleasant as Adrianous Street.
Germanos stores closed on Weekend
When I failed to get a cosmote data sim card at the Germanos Shop in the airport this morning, the store staff told me that I could easily purchase the card in Athens as many stores sold it. Unfortunately as I walked from The Acropolis to Arch of Hadrian to Hadrian Library to Monastiraki Square I just could not find a store that sold the cosmote data sim card that I needed. I was looking for a data sim card that gave 5G (30days) for €30. It seemed that I could only get the data sim card from a Germanos store, unfortunately Germanos stores were not opened on weekend!
View of The Acropolis from the rooftop of our Apartment
After dinner, we decided to explore the rooftop of our apartment. Our apartment was on 4th level which had two apartments. There was a stair leading to the fifth level, so we went up the stair. The fifth level was a small hall with a door that open out to a big balcony. We found a key hanging by the door so we used it to unlock the door and walked onto the balcony. The open balcony was actually the roof of the apartments below. The roof had two levels so we went up to the higher level. And wow we saw The Acropolis! It was beautiful.
Our Accommodation For Day 1 and Day 2
I rent the whole apartment from Leonidas through AirBnB. It was my first time using AirBnB and I was very apprehensive about it. When I was looking for hotels in Athens I could not find the “good” ones within my budget. Good meant safe neighbourhood, within walking distance to the Acropolis and Plaka and within my budget.
Booking with AirBnB was not an easy decision because payment had to be made upfront and cancellation fee would be charged if booking was subsequently cancelled. Booking hotel had the advantage of not having to pay upfront and cancellation a week before arrival would not incur any charges. Beside the front desk of hotel was manned 24 hours so if we had any issue with the room and needed help we could approach the front desk.
Due to the lack of good choices that was satisfied my requirements I eventually booked Leonidas’s apartment. It costed us $193(SGD) for two nights.