Our alarm went on a few minutes after I finally seemed to have drifted off, after lying awake for basically the entire night. Unusually, or at least it is in my experience of hostels, we got a complimentary breakfast included in our room at City Circus. We came down to the common room to find a few people already sitting around the main table. There were a few options on offer: bread, cheese, jams, boiled eggs, fruit, honey and the thickest Greek yoghurt I have ever seen. There were also cubes of a traditional Greek dessert which I didn’t quite take to.
We quickly loaded up food before setting out to find Hadrian’s Arch, which was where the free walking tour we were taking started from. I’ve had great experiences with free walking tours and I think they are the best first thing to do when you get to a place. They give a great overview of the sites that the city has to offer and I’ve always found the guides to be knowledgeable. The guides are also really good at recommending good places to eat so you can find tasty food without the tourist prices.
We had absolutely no idea how to navigate the lanes of Athens but Hadrian’s Arch only seemed to be a 20 minute walk away. Helpfully, City Circus not only had free wifi but actually good free wifi and I was able to load the destination onto my Google Maps before we left and then keen an eye on our blue dot throughout our walk. We actually made it for the 9.45am start. At first we couldn’t see our guide but there seemed to be people waiting around for the tour and soon enough he came to gather us up.
Our tour was only meant to be 2.5-3 hours but I knew they could overrun. This was, however, the only tour I’ve been on which lasted 4 hours! I have no idea how but my lack of sleep didn’t seem to hinder me at all. I don’t even recall yawning despite the amount of walking. We stopped for a break once at a cafe in a quiet area. I must admit, usually the places that I’ve been taken to on free walking tour breaks aren’t all that. On this occasion, however, we were taken to somewhere that did reasonably priced, freshly squeezed orange juice. That was exactly what I needed at that point.
The tour itself took us to several destinations. Admittedly, the main thing I was interested in in Athens was the ancient stuff but this tour was more encompassing. Our guide wasn’t Greek himself but had lived in the country for more than two decades. He gave us some insights into the culture as well as giving us some information about the financial crisis and the many reasons for it. It was interesting to hear about it from a Greek point of view.
Having started our our at Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, we made our way to some Roman baths, the Panathenaic Stadium (the location of the first modern day Olympic Games) the presidential mansion, the parliament building and the grave of the unknown solider (where we saw the very distinctive changing of the guard), Syntagma Square and metro station (which not only houses trains but also relics found when the site was being dug, including graves and a skeleton), the Melina Mercouri Foundation exhibition, the Sacred Way, Ares Hill, the Theatre of Herodes Atticus. We also passed the Ancient Greek and Roman Agoras and finished up at the base of the Acropolis, next to the Temple of Dionysus.
As if that wasn’t enough, we also wandered through the area of Plaka, where our guide pointed out some good, and very quaintly Mediterranean looking, local eats. These were helpfully close to both the agoras and Hadrian’s Library and I screenshot-ed my Google maps at each place, so that we’d be able to follow the blue dot back to the place. Otherwise I’d have no clue.
Since we were visiting Athens during the winter season, many (perhaps even all) of the archeological sites closed earlier, with last entry being around 2.30-3pm. By the time our tour finished, we weren’t really left with much time for the Acropolis. At least, not if we wanted lunch first, which we most certainly did. Our guide pointed out a few good food places close by, including one which sold gyros (i.e. rotisserie meats in a pitta wrap, stuffed with chips and salad), which me and The Flatmate were pretty keen to try.
Happily we found the place easily. I went for a pork gyro, The Flatmate went for chicken (I think mine was better) and The Uni Friend went and found pizza some place else since she’s vegetarian and the vegetarian gyro option just seemed to be salad. My gyro was literally one of the best things I have ever eaten. I am a big fan of a good kebab and this was kind of like that. But with chips in it. As if it couldn’t get any better, the thing only cost €2.30. Even I could afford to get a lot of those during my stay. I almost ordered another, right there and then, but instead we went around the corner to the vegan gelato place. This was also great, although the Nutella and Oreo flavours I picked out were very rich and I left feeling extremely full.
Although it was now too late to see the Acropolis, it was not too late to go to the New Acropolis Museum, which houses many sculptures as well as the Parthenon Marbles. I could have spent hours in there, if I hadn’t been too exhausted, by this point, to read everything. There were sculptures in the place which i’d studied at university, including the Peplos Kore and Kritios Boy. I could barely believe that I was actually seeing them in the flesh, so to speak.
Then there were the Parthenon Marbles, which were beautifully displayed, as close as possible to how they would have been placed on the Acropolis itself. The pieces that were being housed elsewhere had been recreated and this was the first time I really realised how many pieces the British Museum actually has. I must admit, I can see the controversy of the Elgin Marbles from both sides but being in the museum itself really did make me realise how amazing it would be if all the Parthenon Marbles could be reunited and displayed together, which is something the Greeks seem to be very passionate about.
After quite a while, I was ready to leave. By this point, both The Flatmate and The Uni Friend had taken up position in the sun, on the steps outside. I went to join then before heading back to City Circus for some much needed nap time.
After a siesta, we were ready for dinner. There were loads of places near us, and I had heard that our area was good for nightlife and restaurants, so we planned to try out one of them. We invited our new roommate to join us so the four of us hit the streets, on a dinner hunt. Unfortunately, most of the places around seemed to focus more on drinks than food, so we ended up heading further afield and retracing our route from earlier that day.
We ended up at a restaurant called Kosmikon in one of the streets that was filled with souvenir shops. I was worried this would be quite a touristy area but the place was busy and the prices looked reasonable. Since the weather was still unusually warm, despite it being November, we sat at a table on the street. Something about doing that makes me feel like I’m on holiday. It seems like quite a European thing to do.
The Flatmate ordered a plate of lamb chops and was given so many that I had to finish off the last one for her. I can confirm that they were good! The Uni Friend ordered a seafood salad which she liked but it was completely covered in a strong seafood dressing. Our roommate and I both ordered moussaka, which was made of minced beef and aubergine. I had expected something saucier, more like the Lebanese aubergine dishes I have tried, but instead it kind of reminded of lasagna but made with potatoes instead of pasta. It was good.
After dinner, we went across to Brettos – a bar which both The Flatmate had read recommendations for and which our tour guide himself had recommended. The walls of the place were covered in bottle of multi coloured liqueurs and barrels of drink. They also served vast quantities of various Greek wines. We ordered a bottle of retsina, a Greek white wine, in order to get down with the locals (it was also one of the cheapest at €18 a bottle). Now my palette isn’t that distinguished when it comes to wine but I can’t say I was much of a fan. My companions, with more discerning palettes, were even less so. Since it was so busy, we stood just outside in the warm air while we had our drink. Despite not loving the wine, I did love the place. I could see where the good reviews came from.
Once finished, we moved to a similarly priced bar closer to our hostel. The whole area was bustling and buzzing with people chilling out on this Friday night. Despite it being so busy, we were able to find a table, again outside. It was the perfect place to finish up the night, before bed.