THROUGH MY LENSES : MY SPONTANEOUS TRIP TO GREECE

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For the past month, I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect getaway. I hadn’t been on holiday for more than a year and I was in dire need of one. After a number of lengthy discussions with a friend who lives in Europe, we decided on a gem of the Mediterranean, Greece. Without any proper plans, we booked our tickets to meet up in Athens the following week, booked a night’s stay at a hotel and off we went. No itinerary, no organised plans. Just a travel partner, a plane ticket and a hotel reservation. It was crazy, spontaneous and potentially hazardous. It made my anxiety level shoot up with it being my first time getting on a long-haul flight to (almost) the other side of the world but I did it anyway. This little young organised Malay girl was off to her first crazy spontaneous adventure.

Since this was so spontaneous and last minute, I didn’t have the time (and honestly, energy) to sit down and make a full-on proposed itinerary like I would if this trip was being planned months in advance. I did a bit of research and marked recommended places on Google Maps but that’s about it. We spent every morning making plans for the day without a timeframe whatsoever. So, forgive me if I don’t have any tips and tricks up my sleeve. All I have to offer are photos and my experiences.

AEROPAGUS HILL

After making plans on the first morning, we decided to grab lunch and walk to the Acropolis, which is an ancient Greek settlement with some of the greatest architecture in ancient history. As we were almost aimlessly walking, we ended up in Monastiraki. It was a Sunday so it was super crowded. We walked around Monastiraki, checked out a few souvenir shops and started walking aimlessly again until we ended up at Areopagus Hill. We saw numerous people hiking up the hill so we followed only to be greeted by a great view of Athens.

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View from Aeropagus Hill

ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS

The Acropolis is an ancient Greek settlement with some of the greatest architecture of ancient history. In it you would discover temples and structures created by greatly known artists and architects dedicated to lovers and Gods. I learned about Greek history very briefly in school but it was one of my favourite classes, eventhough I remember very little of it now. After paying 20 euros for entrance, you will walk up the mountain to discover the Herodes Theatre, the Dionysus Theatre, and other structures and monuments before reaching the top to see the Parthenon. Around the Parthenon are a few temples built for Greek Gods like Athena and Nike. At the top, you will see another great view of the city, which never gets old, and you will be able to spot a few tourist attractions like the Aeropagus Hill, the Olympic Stadium, the Roman Agora and more.

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Herodes Theatre

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Temple of Athena
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Parthenon

PIRAEUS

After a couple of days, we decided it was time to venture out of the city. We rented a car and made our way to Piraeus. Driving in Greece is crazy. Local drivers are reckless and care very little about the rules. Road signs are confusing, even with the help of Google Maps. Luckily, we made it to Piraeus in one piece. We parked our car at a garage and walked around. We saw beautiful buildings, we passed by the Zea Marina and we walked all the way to Puerto de Mikrolimano. Puerto de Mikrolimano is yet another marina in Piraeus but it is popular for its seafood restaurants. When we arrived at the marina, we were definitely spoilt for choice and we had a difficult time choosing. The entire marina is lined up with seafood restaurants. With the help of online reviews, we had lunch at Papaioannou. We ordered the steamed mussels, fried squid and grilled sardines and the meal fulfilled all my Mediterranean seafood dreams. I would 100% recommend.

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Zea Marina
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Meal at Papaioannou

CAPE SOUNION + TEMPLE OF POSEIDON

After spending a night in Piraeus, we started our journey to Cape Sounion, which was the best thing we did on the trip. The drive from Piraeus to Cape Sounion is absolutely gorgeous. We were accompanied by the best view of the Aegean Sea on our right, and luscious green fields on our left. We passed by houses and beaches, we saw people swimming in the ice cold water. Even the weather was absolutely perfect, we experienced the perfect balance between the cold Spring air and the heat from the sun. If you have the opportunity to do this, please do it. You will not regret a minute of it, trust me.

When you reach Cape Sounion, you will see the Temple of Poseidon at the very top. You have to pay a small entrance fee before going up and then you will see the most breathtaking view of the sea. It was absolutely incredible. Every where I looked was almost unreal to me. It was like a beautiful painting came to life. At that moment in time, I thought of how heaven would look a thousand times more beautiful than this.

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We were there around 2PM and there were very few people around. By 4PM-ish, people started flooding in because they would typically want to catch the sunset here. I would suspect that it would get a lot more crowded during the Summer, especially because there are a lot of vacant villas in the area which could mean that the villas are summer homes.

MOUNT LYCABETTUS

Mount Lycabettus is another spot in Athens city that I really wanted to visit. It is very popular among tourists. We were there to catch the sunset from the top of the hill. We got on the metro from Monastiraki station (we were there to grab lunch) to Evangelismos station, then we walked up to the the Teleferik Cable Car station. You can choose to grab a cab to the cable car because it was a very tiring walk. You may also walk up the hill to the very top of Lycabettus.

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At the top, there’s a Greek church and you will find a lot of people. As soon as the clock hit 6PM, the crowd would begin to flood in and you would have to fight for the perfect spot to check out the view. I know it may sound boring to you that I keep on mentioning the view of city but honestly, the view is different from each place. From Mount Lycabettus, you can actually see the entire stretch of Athens City until the sea, which I suspect to be Piraeus. Don’t quote me on that, I might be wrong but yeah, the view is absolutely incredible. I failed to get the perfect shot of the sunset but you get the drill. You just have to be there in order to experience it. No picture can do it justice.

AEGINA ISLAND

By the end of the trip, we were running out of ideas for things to do. No matter how much help we were getting from Mr. Google, we could not decide what was best for us so when we were buying souvenirs, we asked for suggestions from the cashier and she suggested we make a day trip to Aegina Island. Now, there are a lot of small islands near Athens. Visiting the islands or island hopping is a normal thing to do when visiting Greece. We actually wanted to visit Hydra during the week but we had our rented car and we somehow couldn’t get the logistics right. I would take the blame for that but whatever.

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We took the metro, again, to Piraeus Port to catch a ferry to Aegina Island. Now, we pre-booked the ferry tickets a couple of hours in advance. You should pre-book them at least a day in advance if you want a better chance at getting on the ferry but we literally planned the trip after breakfast, and then booked the tickets online before getting on the metro. We were really chasing time on this day. I really didn’t think we would make it in time but we ran to the ticket booth, got our tickets printed and got on the boat 3 minutes before departure. It was one of the craziest moments during our trip. I have never been that unprepared for something before, especially a car/plane/boat ride. It was absolutely insane! But we had a good laugh.

I expected the island to have a lot to offer but it really is just a small village on an island. It would be great if we had a few days to kill on the island so we could explore the entire island but the most we could do was walk around the village to check out the tiny landmarks.

However, the island is known for its pistachios so you would be able to find independent stores and stalls selling a variety of them. While we were walking, we passed by an independent store selling salted pistachios, caramelised pistachios, pistachio spread (like nutella) and we ended up going in and buying some stuff. Pistachios are really expensive in Malaysia so it was worth the purchase. I bought like RM150+ worth of a variety of pistachios and I don’t regret it at all.

TRAVEL TIPS

1. Hotels

All the hotels in Athens are really shitty for the price. 3 star hotels are at least 30 euros per night and even so, they’re not that good. We stayed at a few different hotels which gave us a lot of flexibility so we could move around as much as we wanted/needed to. It also gave us a lot of problems because when we found a hotel we liked, we couldn’t extend our stay for a few more nights so we had to find a different hotel. There was one night where the hotel got our booking mixed up and it was the worst room I’ve ever stayed in. I couldn’t even shower because it was so bad.

I would recommend Achillion Hotelit was the best hotel we stayed in. It’s in pretty good location, a lot of things are in walking distance and it’s pretty close to the metro station if you need it. The only problem is it’s really popular so you need to book your rooms in advance. And it gets really expensive during peak period. We paid 33 euros per night (without breakfast) for our rooms but on the weekend, we saw the room rates go up until 100 euros a night.

We stayed there for two consecutive nights and one night when we came back from Cape Sounion so we’ve tried a few different rooms. I stayed on the seventh floor the first two nights and then on the one night, I got a room on the fourth floor and I remember it being super duper hot. When I called the reception, they said the room only has a centralised air-conditioning/heating system which means you can only have either air-cond or heating and you can’t choose which one you want because it’s centralised so it’s controlled by the hotel. Luckily, he gave me a room on the sixth floor and everything was perfect again.

If you can’t book Achillion Hotel, you can check out Apollo Hotelit’s in a great location. Again, close to a metro station.  And, they serve really good breakfast. Breakfast at the hotels in Athens isn’t great and they all serve ham, cheese, bread, boiled eggs, cereal and Greek yoghurt. There’s a really nice 24-hour bakery right around the corner. I bought a few pastries there and they tasted absolutely amazing. It’s nice if you want to grab a quick meal because they have everything you could ask for. The cookies aren’t that great though so don’t get those.

We booked our hotels with Booking.com

2. Getting Around

Our main mode of transportation was our feet. We walked a lot. We used a cab only once when we were in Piraeus because the parking garage we parked at was too far from Puerto de Mikrolimano and we were tired. And we only used the metro during the last three days of the trip. We did not use the bus at all.

I would recommend using the metro. It takes a lot of practice though because even with the help of Google Maps, it can get pretty confusing because the signs at the station aren’t elaborate and Google Maps spell everything in Greek. If you’re walking in a dodgy area, please hold on to your bags so you don’t get pick pocketed. Also, there are a lot of beggars around so you need to be tough.

3. Halal Food

If I have to say one negative thing about Athens aside from the expensive hotels, it would be the food. There isn’t a lot of variety. There are usually kebabs, souvlakis, gyros, pastries, sandwiches, seafood, falafels so if you’re a Southeast Asian and you’re into really hearty food, you can’t find it in Greece. Finding halal food isn’t easy because most of the kebab shops aren’t even halal and there aren’t many vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Maybe I wasn’t being too adventurous but yeah.

A few restaurants I would recommend are :-

  • Raja Jee (not available on Google Maps, unfortunately)
  • Telaro
  • Falafellas
  • Lukumades
  • Karahi Indian Cuisine
  • Bread Factory near Metaxourghio Metro Station
  • Veneti Bakery at Omonoia Square
  • Attika Artopoieia at Omonoia Square

And, that’s about it. This was honestly the best trip of my life and I am very happy to be documenting it so I can look at this again in the next few years.

Talk again soon,
Hani Lutfi

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