We carried our large backpacks to the train station, and within the hour we arrived at Athens International Airport. The check-in was rather painless, and we have some time to while away, so Liping and I went around the shops. Like, finally we don’t have to rush through airports with a feeling of dread at the pit of our stomach.
I must say I was very impressed by Easy Jet. Despite being a budget airline, their service was flawless, the aircraft felt amazingly fresh, and the entire journey was over in a flash. I was really happy, and if I ever travel to and fro London, I will definitely choose them.
So we landed at Gatwick airport. I was holding my breathe as I stepped out of the airplane. I am finally in London! Was half expecting problems at the immigration, but like Liping said, they will always ask you the standard questions, so as long as I have answers for them, I will be fine.
Zapped through the immigration, and off we went to find the Tube… but even Liping got really confused. It took us a good 30 minutes before we figured out where the Tube was. LOL.
The journey to Liping’s place took longer than expected. For one, my Oyster card (courtesy of Liping) didn’t work well, so I was stuck at the turnstile for longer than expected. The Tube was crowded, and by the time we reach Warwick Avenue station, it was already dark.
And it was freezing cold. I loved it. Did I ever mention how much I love being in cold countries? LOL.
London bus service was amazing too. I mean, they actually announced the upcoming stops, so that people like me who has no idea which stop was where, it was incredibly useful. I wondered why Singapore didn’t use the same thing, and Liping said, “That’s because, by the time they repeated the upcoming stops in four languages, the bus would have passed the said stop”
LOL. That’s very true. The four language thing in Singapore MRT could be a bit over the board sometimes.
Liping stays in a Zone 2 area in London called Maida Vale. I read about the place before – no, not from some guidebook – but on Shopaholic! You see, Becky and her boyfriend/husband (depends on which book you are reading) stays in Maida Vale. I have little idea how the place looked like when I arrived because everything was dark, but I had a feeling it will be gorgeous in the morning.
So Liping and I walked… actually, no, we ran because it was so cold, from her place to a nearby pub (a pub! in a residential area!) for dinner. I was eager to try out the multitude varieties of British beer, and the famous fish & chips. The former was impressive – I mean, look at the selection! You’ll die of liver malfunction before you can finish tasting them all – and the latter was not as expected. The barter tasted bland, though the fish was fresh.
I half contemplated leaving the house to go out that night, but figured that it might be too much to be so adventurous in a strange land at that time of the night. So I rested my tired body to get ready for the big London adventure the next day!
So the morning dawned upon us again. Still raining (as usual) but after a quick breakfast, we rushed out of the backpackers to catch a cab to the bus station. Our bus for Delphi will leave at 10.30 a.m. and it was already 10.00 a.m.
It was just our luck that we boarded a cab whose driver wasn’t too fluent with English, and he had no idea which bus station we wanted to go too. After some acute miming and pointing at my guide, he seemed to understand and we were on our way.
As we passed more and more unfamiliar buildings and routes, the sense of dread seemed to build within us. Liping and I looked at each other questioningly – could we be on our way to the wrong bus station?
Ten minutes later, our fear was confirmed. After running around the strange bus station looking for a non-existent bus, we approached the information counter and was told crudely that the bus station we were supposed to be at was five kilometres away.
I looked at Liping in dismay. It was already 10.25 a.m. and without a doubt we will miss our bus. And since today is our last day in Athens, it will also mean we will miss Delphi altogether.
Dejected beyond belief, we had to spend several minutes taking deep breathe to calm ourselves after a bout of serious cursing of the cab driver who acted like he knew what he was doing. I suggested that we should visit the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, which was closed when we visited yesterday. Liping looked at me blankly and said she will bet her bottom dollar that the damn museum will be closed as well, but since we had nothing else planned for the day we might as well just try.
And finally, finally, our fortune turned for the better – the museum was open! You can imagine our relief to see the hordes of people moving towards the entrance. And so we got our tickets and immersed ourselves into the world of Greek culture and history.
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity. It is considered one of the great museums in the world and contains the richest collection of artifacts from Greek antiquity worldwide.
As we walked along the many, many displays of ancient Greek artifacts, I couldn’t help but felt awed by the grandeur of what I was experiencing. Centuries of Greek culture were immortalised through brilliant sculptures, drawings and archaeological find. I took a great many photos here, and here are some of my favorites.
This sculpture depicts a fallen young Greek soldier, whose knees were wounded and was kneeling on the ground. His helmet has fallen to the side, and his arm was stretched to the front yielding a sword to defend himself. The look of anguish was clearly engraved on his marblic face.
Ancient Greek head gear (I can’t remember what it was called) for the partisan, plated in gold. It looked like an exotic tiara to me, and I really, really wanted to buy a replica of it to bring home!
A painting of two boxing children, which was excavated from the ancient site of Akrotini of Santorini. Somehow I find this a bit too freaky for my liking. They looked like they are doing a round of muay thai.
Liping and I spent a good two hours here at the museum. I finished first because I was so, so tired from the adventure last night, that I fall asleep in the museum foyer waiting for her! How embarrassing, LOL.
As we leave the museum, the sky was finally cleared and the rain was reduced to a light drizzle. Liping and I took a slow walk to absorb the atmosphere – afterall, this was the area where the recent riot took place, and we could see many burned down buildings, smashed facade etc.
After a leisurely meal at a nearby cafe, we went back to (where else?) to the backpackers. By then we were tired out, both physically and emotionally, from the roller coaster adventure in the morning that we just rested. But I couldn’t stop myself from going to Ermou Street one more time to get a proper winter jacket from Zara, and to shop for more clothes.
Which I did! The shops were then opened (much to my relief), and spent some happy hours trawling through the street despite the unrelenting rain.
This was the jacket I bought from Zara. Pretty cool, eh?
When I returned to the backpackers, we were all ready to go out for dinner. Liping, Marco, Kevin and I went to this place recommended by the owner of backpackers, where we bumped into the youngster Rene and Simon. So we joined our table and had the most fabulous dinner ever! A bit on the pricey side but it was worth every euro.
Since it was our last night in Athens, I intend to enjoy it to very last moment. As usual, our session for the night started at Athens Backpackers’ pub, and gosh, by the time the few of us left for pubs outside, I think I was totally smashed. Marco, Rene, Simon and I made a gang of foursome and trawled the Makrygianni area for drinks, dancing and merriment. Liping and Kevin decided to call it an early night – aiyoh!
I think I had a little too much to drink that I couldn’t recall much of the night. I recall buying the lads a few rounds of beer (alcohol in Europe is seriously affordable compared to Singapore), and danced with a couple of Greek girls at a pub to some retro-like Greek tunes. LOL. A serious culture immersion experience for me.
And – horror of horror – I puked all the way back from the pub to the hostel. Poor Simon and Rene took care of me. And I will always remember one conversation that we had:
Rene: Are you okay Raz…? (in that German accent of his)
Raz: I am okay… *pukey* I need water. Can you buy for me?
Raz: (Pregnant pause)
Rene: But I don’t have money.
Raz: *pukey* Okay, here is five euro. Quick, before I puke again!
Rene: Okay. SIMON! Take care of Raz!
And off he ran. LOL. For some reasons this remained in my memory. Though it could be Simon the one who went to buy drink for me and Rene who stayed with me.
They even got change back to me, and stuffed it into my pocket. LOL.
So we went back to backpackers, and true enough there were a couple of drunk backpackers loitering around in the lobby too. Simon and Rene started to hunt for their “lost camera” (I thought they were playing punk, but apparently they really did lose their camera!), but ended up going back to their room and… passed out on the floor. LOL.
(The story went that Simon puked on the bed and had to sleep on the floor. Either way it was still hilarious)
Here are the photos I took that night. Thank you my dear lads, for taking care of me that night. Athens was great because of you guys!
The plan for the day was to visit Delphi, located some two hours coach ride away from Athens. After some seriously difficult sign language with a cab driver, Liping and I managed to find our way to the right bus station…
… only to discover that the 10 a.m. bus for Delphi was sold out! The next bus is at 1.30 p.m., and since that would mean we will arrive at Delphi close to four, and everything will close by 5 (sunset, see?), it makes little sense for us to go on that day.
So, to be better prepared this time, we bought the ticket for the next day. After some contemplation on what to do next, we decided to pay a visit to the National Museum of Greece. So off we go on another cab (lucky for us the driver speaks pretty good English)…
… only to discover the bloody museum is closed! Worst of all, it was still raining (what is it with Greek weather?!). Liping and I were frozen to the bone. At the museum, signs of the recent riots were evident. It was a bit disheartening to see such a beautiful place being tarnished by graffiti.
And so, with a heavy heart we went back to the backpackers. Liping was so disappointed with the unfortunate turn of event that she settled down in bed to read. It was only after some hours later than we decided to make full use of the day to go out to the shopping area of Athens, a street called Ermou Street.
Mind you, it was still drizzling when we ventured out, so imagine, just imagined our disappointment when most of the shops were closed at Ermou Street!
Espirit – closed!
Zara – closed!
It was really, really a mega bummer. In total desperation we went to a nearby cafe to have lunch… and ended up chatting for two hours. To be honest, although Liping and I have been traveling together for some days now, we didn’t really talk talk. So over a cuppa and some food, we talked and caught up with each others’ scandals. LOL.
After that long yakking session, we went to the Parliament House of Greece to watch the changing of guard. It was really, really dull work, and the ceremony wasn’t as grand as it supposed to be. So I was kinda look forward to the one in London.
We then went to a nearby McDonald’s for some coffee, because I was really, really frozen to the core with all the strong wind and drizzling wind. Just our luck that in McD, we bumped into a couple of “crazy people”. A mute man who was enthusiastically scribbling on many, many pieces of paper and was so excited seeing my Macbook, he demanded to look at the screen. A slightly crazy-looking overweight woman who sat next to us who started to scratch herself everywhere.
Liping and I were very perturbed by these, so decided to head back to hostel instead. More photos of our adventure that day here on Flickr.
That night we had a lot of fun drinking (again) at Athens Backpackers. Liping even tried her hand in making sunny side up eggs, much to the amusement of all the lads around her. Got to know a couple of friends too – Marco from Switzerland, as well as the lads from Germany, Simon and Rene. We drank together and generally had fun the way only drunk people will. LOL.
We had a little bit too much to drink, and in the pissed-off state we were in, Marco, Simon, Rene and I decided to head out (in the rain!) in search of more drinks after the backpacker’s pub was closed at 11 p.m. So on we went, and I couldn’t remember exactly what we did. I think we tried to go into some clubs, only to discover either they have a minimum age (Rene and Simon were only 16!) or they have exorbitant entry charges. We moved in and out of clubs and pubs, and at one point someone even approach us and asked if we want to get some “fun pills”!
Of course, we didn’t. Do you mind! I am a thoroughly decent guy, drunk or otherwise :D
And so we ended up at a pub where we had some more beer and shots, before making our long, long way home. I crashed out the moment I entered the room. What a night!
Christmas Day in Athens! You would expect joyful caroling along the main streets, with people mingling around drinking beer, dressed-up ponies surrounded by shrieking children…
… well, that was supposed to be an Athenian Christmas, but it didn’t happen today because it was raining the whole damn day.
The sky just poured and poured… not heavily, mind you. Just heavy enough for you to think you can venture outside only to discover yourself drenched within minutes.
So all in all, it was a bummer of a Christmas, but within the house of Athens Backpackers there was still joy to be shared by all. In exchange for a Christmas lunch, Liping and I volunteered for some “communal cooking”.
So off we went! I was on chopping duty, so my job was exactly that – chop, chop and chop! It was a hilarious experience chopping mounts of vegs with the ladies who (surprise, surprise) had no idea what we are chopping. LOL.
And so after all ingredients were prepared, we sat at the lunch table and waited… and waited… and waited.
Did you know turkeys took five hours to cook?
Nope, we didn’t know either. So we waited from late morning till 3 p.m. before any food was served!
While we waited, I chatted with Zun, who hailed from China, but was born in Philippines, but right now studying in the USA. His background was so complicated that Liping, Kevin and I had trouble understanding. LOL. But we had fun making fun of each other and passed time by complaining in unison how long it took.
Ah, the food was finally ready!!! This was what we waited five hours for. It tasted… well, I guess it tasted alright. But the wine they served (on the house, yay!) more than made up for the amount of food to be shared by the 40 odd backpackers that afternoon.
It was certainly an interesting way to spend my Christmas morning, and one that I would love to do again.
After sitting for so long in the dining hall, we went back to rest in our room. Contemplated going out, but it was still pouring, so we slept instead until dinner time. By then we were starving again, so we headed to a nearby restaurant for some food.
The food, I have to say, was much more satisfying compared to lunch. The dim light, the soothing music (they had live piano and guitar going on on Christmas songs) and the great company made a wonderful Christmas dinner.
And then it was back to Athens Backpackers for more drinking and merriment. I think by the time I hit my third glass of housepour, plus a couple of Raki shots on the house, I lost track of time and what I was doing. Crashed out not long after that.
After a minor crisis at the Athens Airport involving a detached haversack from my backpack, we made our way to Athens city centre… by bus. We were lucky that we did not miss the last bus, since the flight from Santorini – Athens was delayed!
And so we made it to Syntagma Square, where our accommodation Athens Backpackers was located at. A series of misinterpreting directions (my fault, I’ll admit), me made it to the backpackers in, checked in with little fuss and soon tucked into bed.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast of toasts and coffee, we took part in the Downtown Walking Tour (5 Euros), which was organised everyday from Athens Backpackers. It’s not just a walk around, but a complete orientation of the city centre, a must on your first day in Athens. The very chatty guide, a local Greek girl named Paula who spoke perfect English, took us to some of the must-see sites and museums, shopping tips, interesting out-of-the-way places, and of course show you where the great cheap tavernas’ (traditional Greek restaurants) are.
In the two hours walk, Liping and I learned more about Athens and the Greek way of life, more language and culture. I won’t put the photos taken during the walking tour here as we visited some of the key landmarks in the same day.
We ended our walking tour in the middle of Plaka. Liping and I opted to head out for lunch… and after walking around the area (and subject to some minimal touting, a relief compared to Istanbul), we had some simple sandwiches at a nondescript cafe. Right after, we hurriedly made our way to the majestic Acropolis, site to many ancient Greek monuments, including the sentinel Parthenon. However, our first stop was the Theatre of Dionysos.
The importance of theatre in the Athenian city-state can be gauged from the dimensions of the enormous Theatre of Dionysos on the southeastern slope of the Acropolis.
During the golden age in the 5th century BC, the annual festival was one of the major events on the calendar. Politicians would sponsor dramas by writers such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, with some light relief provided by the bawdy comedies of Aristophanes. People come from all over Attica, with their expenses met by the state.
I took a great many photos here, because the place was simply too grand for just a cursory glance. We climbed up and down the seats to take in the feel. It was a good thing we did – turn out that this is the only site in Acropolis that we can actually get close to. The remaining were cordoned off, out of reach of tourists.
Next up – Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161. Herodes Atticus was a wealthy Roman who built the theatre in the memory of his wife Regilla. It was excavated in 1857-58 and completely restored between 1950 and 1961. There are performances of drama, music and dance here during the Hellenic Festival. The theatre is open to public only during performances.
Not very far from here was a series of stone steps to go up to the top of Acropolis, where my breathe was literally taken away.
To get into the main site, you will pass through the grand entrance of Propylaia. The Propylaia formed the towering entrance to the Acropolis in ancient times. Its architectural briliance ranks with that of the Parthenon. It consists of a central hall, with two wings on either side.
The Panatenaic Way, which cuts across the middle of Acropolis, was the route taken by the Panathenaic procession – the climax of the Panathenaia festival held to venerate the goddess Athena.
Erechtheion was built on the part of the Acropolis held most sacred. It was here Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and where Athena produced the olive tree. Named after Erichthonius, a mythical king of Athens, the temple housed the cults of Athena, Poseidon and Erichthonius.
The Erechtheion is immediately recognisable by the six larger-than-life maiden columns that support its southern portico, the much-photographed Caryatids. They are so called because the models for them were women from Karyai (modern day Karyes) in Lakonia.
The Parthenon is the monument that more than any other epitomises the glory of ancient Greece. It means “virgin’s apartment”. This is the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, and the only one built (apart from its wooden roof) of Pentelic marble.
Built on the highest part of the Acropolis, the Parthenon had a dual purpose – to house the great status of Athena commissioned by Pericles, and to serve as the new treasury. It was built on the site of at least four earlier temples dedicated to the worship of Athena.
We were lucky that during our visit, the weather was sunny and bright, if not a bit too windy. To be at the Acropolis on that day was like a dream come true for me. Standing on top of the hill, the white buildings of Athens stretched everywhere you look. It’s like the God drop a whole load of (white) candies on top of the Acropolis, and they rolled in every direction.
Right after the majestic Acropolis, we descended from the hill to visit the Ancient Agora.
Ancient Agora was Athens’ meeting place in ancient time. It was the focal point of administrative, commercial, political and social activity. All roads led to the Agora, and it was a lively, crowded place. The main monuments are the Temple of Hephaestus, the Stoa of Attalos and the Church of the Holy Apostles. The site is bounded by Areopagus Hill in the south, the Athens-Piraeus metro line to the north, Plaka to the east and Apostolou Pavlou to the west.
I was looking forward to see the Temple of Apollo. Little did I know it will be just like the rest of the “remains” in Ancient Agora – just foundation stones on the ground. What a disappointment!
Of the entire Agora, only Temple of Hephaestus was in tact. This temple, on the western edge of the Agora was surrounded by foundries and metalwork shops, and was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge. It was one of the first buildings of Pericles’ rebuilding programme and is the best-preserved Doric temple in Greece. Unlike the Parthenon, the monument doesn’t evoke a sense of wonder, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
On the way from Ancient Agora to Roman Agora, we bumped into a couple of riot polices hidden at a corner of the main road. We looked around in alarm and saw that indeed some kind of a crowd was gathering at the square of Makriyanni. Of all things, a riot on Christmas Eve! I hurried away, but Liping found the time (and courage!) to snap a couple of photos first. LOL.
Soon we arrived at the Roman Agora, and immediately one monument attracted our attention. The well-preserved Tower of the Winds was built in the 1st century BC by a Syrian astronomer named Andronicus. The octagonal monument of Pentelic marble is an ingenous construction that functioned as a sundial, weather vane, water clock and compass. Each side represents a point of the compass, and has a relief of a figure floating through the air, which depicts the wind associated with that particular point. Beneath each of the reliefs are the faint markings of sundials. The weather vane, which disappeared long ago, was a bronze Triton that revolved on the top of the tower. The Turks allowed dervishes to use the tower.
The rest of the Roman Agora appears to the layperson (like me) as little more than a of rubble. In the southern area are the foundations of a propylon and a row of shops. To the right of the entrance are the foundations of a 1st-century public latrine.
In fact, I almost had a little incident at the said public latrine. After a full day of walking about, I was understandably high-tide. So I was scrambling around looking for a toilet. Was told by the nice lady at the ticketing booth where the toilet was, which was at a corner of the Roman Agora.
As I walked to the said corner, I can’t help but notice the said site of the ancient public latrine. Of course, by now, the latrine was reduced to mere rubbles on the ground. I was puzzled and momentarily considered if this was where I was supposed to relieve myself. But it couldn’t be… I mean, should I be tainting a national monument with, err, human waste?
After a couple of puzzled seconds, I finally noticed the actual public toilet, which is actually built into the ground. No wonder I couldn’t see it! Haha. For a moment I almost made a fool out of myself. LOL.
Click here to view the galore of photos I took that day.
Finally we went back to the hostel to rest. My poor, overwalked feet! It was also then we met Kevin Yum. He was originally from Hong Kong, but now studying in the States. Came to Athens enroute to Italy for an end-year holiday. Lucky bastard. If only I was that fortunate when I was a student!
I couldn’t remember what I did that night… I have a shrewd suspicion that it consisted nothing more than an elaborate dinner at a restaurant nearby and then more drinks at the hostel bar.
Cheap drinks galore! For EUR2, I get a beer. EUR3 for a housepour. And despite not being that well equipped, the bartender was surprisingly apt at producing the most delicious drinks. He also had a penchant to dish out free shots of raki at us the Asian guests. I am not complaining of course, but it also meant I was dead by the time midnight came around, and off to the bed I went.