He Says: The day after snowboarding in Bankso, we took an overnight bus south across the Greece border and ended up in the City of Athena early the next morning. The bus ride was actually an adventure unto itself. There were no direct routes from Bansko so we had to take a bus to a town called Blagoevgrad then pick up another bus heading to Greece from Sofia, Bulgaria. To make our connection we had to figure what time the bus would arrive from Sofia and where. If you couldn’t tell by its name, Blagoevgrad isn’t a very big tourist destination. Unfortunately, absolutely no one in this city spoke a lick of English. So we spent at least 2 or 3 hours during our layover trying to find someone who could understand us and explain where and when we needed to be. We actually started to get a little scared we wouldn’t figure it out in time to catch the bus. Finally, a Bulgarian woman who was helping her English friend, overheard me trying to tell the attendant we wanted to go to Athens. She did a little translating and within 5 minutes we had our tickets and found out where the bus would pick us up. Whew…
We made it to Athens early in the morning and were dropped off on the side of a street in the middle of a busy square. We had absolutely no clue where in the city we were or where our hotel was in relation to us. Like most bus stations there was a slew of taxi drivers waiting for any passengers without a pickup, which would be us. After being ripped off in Vietnam and Bulgaria we’ve become pretty apprehensive about taking taxis. In this case we really had no choice because we had no map or idea where we needed to go. Reluctantly we hopped in a taxi and showed our driver the address. He couldn’t speak English very well (or at least he acted like he couldn’t) so he just sort of nodded, affirming he would take us there. As soon as he shut of the meter we had an inkling something wasn’t right, but at that point we were already moving. He drove us around a few blocks making a few lefts and rights, as if our hotel was seemingly far away. Upon our arrival he asked for 10 euro which seemed slightly steep considering the drive only took a few minutes. On top of that, the square down the street from our hotel looked eerily similar to the square where the bus dropped us off. At that point the jig was up; we knew he was up to no good. Before paying him I went into the hotel and asked the receptionist if she thought the price was reasonable. She tried to avoid getting involved, but after pestering her for a few minutes she gave in and said a few words to the driver. At this point, he knew he was caught so he cut his price in half to 5 euro. Still too expensive but we paid him to be done with it.
So we got settled and started planning our time in Greece. Too much to do and too little time. The obvious things we had to see were the Acropolis and the markets in the Plaka and Monastiraki Square. Our first day was mostly spent relaxing and getting to know the area. We walked up and down the alleys and narrow streets wondering at the graffiti on almost every building. Most of it was demanding the Greek politicians be thrown in jail, but some of it was art good enough for a gallery.
The following day was the first Sunday of the month, the day when the Acropolis waves its entrance fees. We obviously weren’t going to miss a free entrance so we slowly made our way to the small mountain in the middle of the city, stopping in Monastiraki Square along the way. We strolled through the market places, grabbed lunch then started hiking up the steps and paths to the top of the Acropolis.
Once we got there we noticed a lookout point at the top of a huge rock before actually entering the park. It had a beautiful vista of Athens, the mountains surrounding it and the Acropolis on its perch. I couldn’t pass up the view so I talked TB into sitting with me for a while to appreciate the scenery. After about 30 or 45 minutes we went to the gate of the Acropolis only to find that it closed about 15 minutes prior. 🙂 Guess that’s what happens when you procrastinate. We decided it was probably for the best, otherwise we may have been rushed out before we had a chance to see everything we wanted to. It just so happens that a few days later was a national holiday, so the entrance would be free again.
That night we met with a friend, Stefanos, who was one of my uncle’s tour guides during his vacation in Greece. It’s always nice to meet a local or someone who’s familiar with the area because you inevitably find the coolest places that most tourists miss. And that’s exactly where Stefanos took us. After meeting him at a coffee shop he took us down a few streets then turned down an ominously dark alley. For fear of being mugged, we never would’ve braved this alley had we not been with Stefanos. We turned down some steps going underneath and to the back of a building, then came out on the other side to an outdoor square surrounded on all sides by more buildings. Filling the tiny square was one of the best bars I think TB and I have ever been to. Half of it was enclosed under a tarp, and hanging over the bar was a tree with orange lights wrapped all around it’s branches. The other half was outside on terraces of dirt with little wooden tables and benches for seating. Given its “hidden” location it was surprising how many people were there. Stefanos explained that there’s very little advertising for these places so most of the patrons find it by word of mouth. We loved the excellent vibe and had a great conversation with our new friend. We decided to grab another beer so he took us to a different bar with another excellent vibe. This one was also in a little square, but this time the surrounding buildings looked like ruins over a thousand years old. Stefanos told us he wasn’t sure but they probably were :-). This bar also served as an art gallery and had great music, a little loud for good conversation, but still great. The whole night was a definite win. We would never have found either place had we not been with Stefanos. It’s good to have connections. 🙂 Looking forward to meeting with him again soon. He is certainly welcome to come visit us anytime.
We made plans to meet with him again the next day, but this time we’d go to his house and eat lunch with his family. TB was ecstatic to be eating authentic Greek food. Unfortunately, we couldn’t follow directions as we took the wrong bus and ended up on the opposite side of Athens from where we were supposed to be. I think TB almost cried in disappointment. To top it off, a torrential down poor of rain and hail began right after we realized our mistake. We made our way back to the hotel dejected, wet and hungry. 😦
The next day was a national holiday, not sure which one, when entrance to the Acropolis was free again, so we made our way back up the hill and to the millenia old buildings. This time we went straight in instead of stopping. Most of the Parthenon was under renovation, but it was still a site to behold. The huge Ionic columns are amazing to see on their own, but even more impressive when you consider they were raised almost 2500 years ago. Truly awe-inspiring. My favorite part about visiting places like this is the perspective it gives you. It’s hard enough to imagine how people lived a few hundred years ago, let alone a few millenia.
We spent a few hours gazing in wonder at the ancient temples and theaters then finally made our way back down to the markets for food, drinks, and postcards. In all the markets throughout Turkey, and now in Greece, we had seen these round stones with a target-like design, usually with blue, white, and yellow concentric circles. We finally found out they’re a protective eye meant to ward off evil. We didn’t want any evil spirits coming after TB so we picked up a necklace for her, then bought some postcards and a traditional Bouzouki music CD for my Uncle Jerry. Hope he likes it. 🙂
We hadn’t made any definite plans for our time in Greece, but we knew we wanted to go somewhere outside of Athens and visit some of the islands. Uncle Jerry recommended a stop in Delphi to see the Oracle of Apollo so we made that our next stop. We stopped at a travel agency on our way back from the markets and picked up bus tickets to Delphi for the following day.
She Says: So on to Delphi. I was a little weary of going to Delphi just because most people say it is only a day trip and I wasn’t sure there would be enough to see to make a trip. However, J had said that Uncle Jerry recommended it so I obliged. J and I do not like to be rushed so instead of only doing a day trip we booked 2 nights there just to make sure we got to see it all. I am definitely glad we went.
Delphi was unexpectedly perched up high in the mountains. Apparently I did no research ;). It was absolutely beautiful! It was a very small quaint town set among some of the most beautiful landscape we have seen. No wonder the Greeks thought it was the center of the world. They had built this city in a perfect place– there were great views everywhere!! We even had a great view from our hotel balcony.
The town itself was pretty bare. We expected this since we are travelling during the off season. Every restaurant we visited, we were the only ones there haha. That means great service for us :). Since we arrived early evening we decided to just meander the 2 streets of the town and head to the ruins the next day. Unfortunately, the next day meant rain. We relaxed and had a lazy morning expecting or, better yet, hoping the rain would subside. When it turned around 11am and the rain continued we decided to just dawn our rain coats and brunt the rain. Walking to the ruins we got pretty wet. Luckily the rain ended giving up soon after we arrived. We enjoyed walking through the ruins, taking pictures, and enjoying the scenery.
Delphi was beautiful and was a great break from the hustle and bustle of Athens. J and I always say when we visits small towns like this– that we feel more at home here than in the big city. See mom, country girl at heart 🙂
Our next stop planned was Santorini. We were heading back to Athens the next day and spending one night there, and then catching the ferry to the island bright and early the next morning.
Ugh 530am and we are up and out the door!! I guess I can’t complain too much. We only get up before 9am a couple times a month if that..haha. We made it to the ferry, which was super nice! After about 8 hrs we arrived to the beautiful island of Santorini. The sun was peeking through the clouds just in time for a sunset arrival. The hostel we were staying at arranged a free pick up to the hotel from the pier. Our man was waiting with his sign and we were relieved to have a ride. The hike to the top of the mainland didn’t look fun..
We were starving by the time we reached the hotel. Lucky for us, our host sat us down and made us a nice little meal and a glass of wine while we were checking in (Free of charge). Our room was nice and cozy. We settled in and decided to walk into the village to find some more food. We found a nice little Greek taverna. I of course ordered mousaka. It’s this yummy delicious lasagna style dish that features, cheese, bechemel, eggplant, potato, and ground beef. It is a staple in the Greek diet and everyone who samples it understands why. It is, however, probably not the most healthy dish the Greek offer, unfortunately.
The next day we woke up and decided to rent a car to explore the island. We got our little red hot rod and started the day. It was a bit cloudy and windy out and not very warm. The island seemed pretty empty. Everyone told us that it is a completely different vibe in the summer. Just another reason to come back. 🙂 We still hit all the main tourist spots despite the less than cooperating weather. Our final stop was the town of Oia. Apparently the best sunsets are from this part of the island, but we would be lucky to see the sun with all the clouds. Lucky we must be! The sun came out just in time for us to enjoy a beautiful sunset. The best thing– we enjoyed it all by ourselves. Not with 100 other tourists. Oh the perks of travelling in the off season. We definitely want to come to Oia again. It’s the town you see in all the pictures of Greek isles, with all the white houses perched on the cliff overlooking the sea with the blue capped dome roofs. There are so many small alleys that wind their way all over the cliffside with hidden cafes, shops and restaurants. It is almost like a maze– I can’t imagine finding my way out after too many glasses of wine.
The next couple days were filled with awful weather. We ventured out once or twice for food but that was about it. We found this awesome little cafe that served the best waffles J and I have ever tasted…hands down!! We even went back the day we were leaving to get another one. They were fresh, warm, and the perfect density of fluffiness. I think the waffles alone were enough to get J to visit the island again. 🙂 Unfortunately, we have no photos because J scarfed them down as soon as they were set in front of him.
Our last night we met Stefanos once more for a couple of drinks. It was great to meet up with him and hopefully we see him again sooner than later!
We will be back to Greece and definitely Santorini…for now, we’re off to Budapest, Hungary.