Greece, History
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Athens Part Five: an ancient cemetery and McDonald’s

All too soon, it was our last morning in Athens. We let ourselves have a bit of a lie in this morning and so stayed in bed until about 9.30pm, although typically I woke up earlier, as I only ever do when I have the chance to get some extra rest. Breakfast at City Circus runs till 10.30am so at 10am we made our way down there and stocked up on food. I basically had one of everything – toast and cheese, a boiled egg and some thick Greek yoghurt, fruit and honey.

After we’d finished we headed to our rooms, ready to check out at 11am. Our flight didn’t leave until 6.35pm but for €1 we could pay to leave our bags in the hostel’s secure luggage room. That was handy. The person at reception also said that we could come and chill on the roof balcony later, which was equally helpful. That way we could rest and get some sun and avoid wandering aimlessly around, killing time.

We headed back to our usual haunts and did our souvenir shopping on the streets between Monastiraki Square and Plaka. We stocked up on magnets, little decorative pots and matching evil eye bracelets. I’d already got my mum a piece of olive wood kitchenware shaped like a fish for her birthday and my friends stocked up on other bits and pieces, including ouzo sweets for work colleagues.

When we were done, we went for some lunch. I was still full from breakfast but this was going to be the best time and I really wanted another pork gyro before I left Athens. We spotted a place off Monastiraki Square called Savvas. It was a restaurant but did takeaway gyros (which are basically like kebabs) for a couple of euros as well. It also did falafel wraps, ideal for the veggie Uni Friend, and doner kebabs, which is what The Flatmate was craving. We sat in the sun at the tables on the street outside and all left pretty happy.

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After lunch, The Flatmate and The Uni Friend were ready to go back to the hostel and take up their places on the roof balcony, but I had one last place I wanted to go to – Kerameikos cemetery. Entrance had been included with our Acropolis tickets and I’d read that it was really worth a visit. I wanted to leave Athens with as few ancient sites missed as possible so I was pretty set on going. I knew it wasn’t far but I had forgotten to ask The Flatmate for our city map and by this point she had thrown it out.

Happily, Savvas had free wifi so I could load up my Google maps. After about a 10 minute walk, dodging various antique and second hand shops which had spilled out onto the pathways, I found Kerameikos. Upon my arrival, I was informed that the museum at the site was closed that day. That wasn’t so surprising as it was a Monday and I had heard/read that several places in Athens didn’t open on Mondays. I was told that I would be able to use my ticket to visit again the next day but, of course, I’d be in London by then. I must admit, I wasn’t too fussed. I’d had my fill of museums by then and I was on a tight timeframe anyway if I wanted to be able to get some sun-roof-time in before we had to leave for the airport.

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The site of Kerameikos holds not only remnants of the cemetery but of the old city wall and the Dipylon Gate and Sacred Gate through it. I feel like because it’s not a place people would have necessarily heard of (me included) and it’s location isn’t quite as obvious as the other sites, it could quite easily be missed but that would be a massive shame. Since the surviving parts of the wall are quite tall and there are plenty of paths to explore it did feel like walking around part of an ancient town. I even found another tortoise.

It was also surprisingly peaceful, despite the fact it was next to a busy and noisy road. If I’d had the time, I could have quite easily found a place in the sun and read the little book of Greek myths I’d bought as a souvenir. It was probably one of my Athens highlights.

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I found a few grave markers, with various sculptings on them. I spotted many more through the open window of the museum. There seemed to be several impressive ones in there. It was a shame I didn’t even get the chance for a quick glance but I guess it gives me an excuse to go back to Athens – as if I need one!

Finally, I started to make my way back to the hostel. I managed to figure out a shortcut and turned down a street covered in street art, before finding another one where multiple lampshades had been hung above it. When I got back to City Circus, I headed up to the roof balcony to find The Flatmate and The Uni Friend had spread their stuff over all of it. We sat in the sun for another hour, chatting to another holidaymaker from England who had decided to take in the view. Eventually, we had to admit that it was time for us to leave.

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We were planning on getting the metro to the airport. Apparently Athens only actually got a metro system in 2004 and it was now award winning. Considering how often I have got stuck on the tubes in London, I was interested to see how a good underground train system functioned.

The trains left for the airport every half an hour and the journey took about 45 minutes. That’s a long time to wait for a tube train in my opinion (you can catch a tube to Heathrow in London basically whenever) but we managed to time it well. Tickets were €8 and, although there aren’t any barriers, the fines for being caught riding the metro without a ticket are steep so you need to get a ticket. There are discounts for buying tickets to the airport for two or three people so we were able to get all of our tickets for €20.

There weren’t loads of seats on the trains and they were pretty busy but they were big and clean. The journey was pretty smooth and we didn’t get delayed once. All in all, it was an improvement on London’s tube trains, as far as I’m concerned. I’m pretty sure general tickets are cheaper as well. The challenge has been set London.

As soon as we arrived at the airport, we found that our flight had already been delayed by an hour. Great. If we had looked that up we could have had an extra hour on our rooftop. Instead we had three hours to kill in the airport. There seemed to be a lot to do in the departure area, before we went through passport control. Annoyingly, a lot of stuff seemed to be in the domestic flight section, which we couldn’t get into but we found a couple of places to do some window shopping and even a small museum section, with ancient items found around the airport area.

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We also found a McDonald’s for lunch (FYI, Greek McDonald’s serve Greek Macs – a burger in a pita bread – in addition to the rest of the menu). As a McDonald’s lover, I always like to see what different dishes McDonald’s serve in different countries. In some countries, I’ve found a triple stacked Big Mac. I don’t know why we only have doubles here. In Malaysia, I found spiced chicken. My favourite thing though was finding macarons in Belgium. They weren’t amazing but just the fact they were there was enough.

After passport control, all we found was duty free and some designer shops were couldn’t even afford to window shop in. On a plus note, I also found plenty of plug sockets. My phone was running out of battery after my photo marathon at Kerameikos. That wasn’t ideal as my boarding pass was an e-ticket on my phone. I’d be in trouble if I couldn’t get to that. I’d brought a pack of cards away with me, figuring they would be ideal whenever we had time to kill. Sadly, my friends refused to play with me throughout the holiday so I sat and played a lonely round of solitaire. THANKS FRIENDS.

Still, the three hours we had at the airport went quite quickly and we were eventually able to board our plane. This time we were flying with British Airways and it was oh so much better. The plane was surprisingly big for a short haul flight and had three rows of seats and a proper business class section. I don’t know how we managed it but we got seats right at the front of our economy section. That meant that we had no one in front of us, tons of leg room and the in-flight entertainment TV was right in front of us. BBC News played for a while before our movie came on – the most recent Fantastic Four film. I can’t say I rated it but it was still entertaining. Then we had an episode of The Big Bang Theory and The Middle.

We also had dinner included. Usually, I weirdly love plane food. However, my chicken and tomato pasta and soggy dessert were quite gross. Perhaps my palette has matured over the years (doubtful)! My Greek salad with balsamic vinegar wasn’t bad though.

After we landed, I jumped up to get off the plane as soon possible. It was getting late and I was ready to get home. The air hostess let business class off first and we spotted Paul O’Grady ahead of us. I used to love watching Lily Savage as a kid. What a random blast from the past.

We got through the airport and onto the tube home pretty quickly. It was an hours journey back to Brixton station but obviously, as per our luck, our tube was delayed for at least 20 minutes as we had to wait for a broken down train ahead of us to get moved. We didn’t get home until much later than planned, which meant straight to bed, ready for work the next morning. Our holiday had been great but, as we walked through cold, wet Streatham Hill, it was clear that it was well and truly over.

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