Monday, 22 April 2013

Greece.

My boyfriend and I adore Greek Mythology so when it was holiday planning time, visiting Athens was an instant choice! We decided to stay right in the centre of Athens so that it was easy to get around and also close to the Acropolis, the main reason for our visit.
The first thing we noticed upon arriving in Greece was the huge amount of graffiti. I mean, there are many places in London that is covered with graffiti so it wasn't a total culture shock, but in Athens, it was literally ev-er-y-wh-ere. I don't personally mind graffiti, when it actually looks thought-through. I love Art so I can and do appreciate it... but I can't say I was that impressed with the amount I saw, especially when they were on would-be beautiful buildings (such as the University of Athens)...or when they were just scribbles and were clearly there from boredom... and I was pretty horrified at skateboarders using the column of a statue as a ramp.... my my, I must sound like I am 70! ...although I am impressed at my photo-taking skills!

There were also stray dogs everywhere, you would see one every couple of minutes. Admittedly, this made me feel a little on-edge as I have a bit of a fear towards dogs! The overall feel of Athens was very busy but there was also a very laid-back vibe from everyone/everything. My boyfriend and I were humoured by pigeons that were just sat on the pavement with no care in the world, whereas the pigeons in London would be walking around trying to get their beaks into the next piece of bread someone would throw for them (I hate this!)... same with the stray dogs, most would just be asleep in doorways and along the street. .. and most amusing were the policemen! They were all young looking men with motorbikes who all seemed to wear Ray-bans and they just stood in groups of 4-5 just having a chat and I honestly thought they looked like they were mimicking the T-Birds from the film 'Grease' - total coincidental pun! This was everywhere! Not once did I see any policemen that had the same stern, ready-to-catch-you look as London policemen! The feel of Athens was so different to London!
We arrived early-evening so were looking for a place to eat and decided to just wander around until we were approached by a local older man who looked like he had just been shopping. He seemed quite groomed, his English was fair, he was very polite and most memorable is that he looked like an older version of the actor Vincent Cassel! He asked what we were looking for and as he was so polite, we continued the conversation with him. He said there was an 'excellent restaurant' not far from where we were so we decided to let him lead us (of course, if I was alone, I would have run a mile).....we ended up at Old Ithaki restaurant which was only a 2 minute walk, and it looked beautiful from the outside. My boyfriend and I joked that the guy that lead us here should get commission for bringing tourists to the restaurant!
We decided to try the popular Souvlaki which after 2-3 bites was nice, but then I personally began to tire of it. I have always loved Asian, British and Italian food the most with a dislike for salad, so I wasn't surprised that I didn't love it, however, my boyfriend adored it and finished off what I couldn't eat!
Now, a few minutes before we finished, the guy that had brought us here had reappeared! He sat down somewhere else in the restaurant and smiled when I caught his eye. This was more of a 'oh shit I thought they may have gone by now' kind-of smile! So, our previous joke about him had suddenly started to unravel! He was clearly friends with the owner and must have gotten a free dinner or something for bringing us to the restaurant! This was amusing at first and we didn't care much because the food was 'nice' ... but we still felt a little conned by it!!
And just to top it off, we saw him again a few days later approaching another couple at around the same time he approached us and he was carrying the SAME BAG! I'm a creative so I will always see the details!! Obviously a prop to make it look like he was just passing through! Eurgh!
After this discovery, we weren't very impressed!! ...and on the other nights where we looked for places to eat, we were very annoyed at how pushy the restaurants were for customers. It really GOT ON MY NERVES. They would end up walking down the road with you trying to get them to read their menu. One front-of-house guy even made us go into the kitchen to look at the food and slandered the other restaurants nearby by saying that their food was unclean or not freshly prepared. I don't know how he thought this would make us want to eat at his restaurant... 
In the end, we decided to go for the 'least' pushy restaurant, which I have to say, was a tricky decision to make, and left us feeling very irritable. 

One of the places I really wanted to go to was Lake Vouliagmeni Hot Springs which took a very long time to get to. We did half the journey by tram which was easy and gave us more of a view of the city, then we tried to get a bus for the rest of the way but unfortunately all the bus information was covered in graffiti. I had to laugh otherwise I would have cried. So we ended up walking for a long, long time! We finally found it and it was beautiful but due to my optimism, I assumed there would be towels and other things available, but there was not! The only thing I had was my swimming costume! ...and as it was quite late by the time we had reached it, the weather had become quite chilly...so, this was a bit of a disaster!
The next day, we decided to do a day trip to Aegina Island. This was a short, slightly expensive boat ride from Piraeus port...but when we got there, we were so happy to have done it! The island was beautiful and looked more like how I expected Athens to look. I loved the pastel coloured buildings and everything felt fresh and inviting. I squealed in delight when I spotted the horse & carriage rides, this was one thing I was not going to miss! This gave us a greater understanding of the island and we passed many beautiful houses and an amazing white graveyard. We also had lunch in a restaurant by the sea which was lovely and I opted for a good spaghetti bolognese!
We continued to wander around the island and came across beautiful churches, small museums and many lovely little souvenir stores.
Coming towards the end of our holiday, we visited the amazing Acropolis (the reason why we didn't visit it straight away was because we were waiting for International Monuments Day which was when there were free admissions!) and I really wish we had taken the reviews we read about visiting the Acropolis much more seriously in regards to getting there very early to avoid large tourist groups! We were permanently trapped between two different tourist groups and felt like we had to wait them to move, before we could!
Nevertheless, everything was amazing to look at. The Parthenon was just incredibly surreal, the scale of it!... and I loved the Erechtheion which is a temple built in dedication to Athena and Poseidon.
As you walked around Athens, you can pretty much see the Acropolis from every angle especially at night when it is lit and looks like it is almost floating!...and I've just noticed how strange the road lamp looks in this photo!
I also loved the souvenir shops!!! ... there was SO much stuff I could have easily bought if I had the disposable income for it! I loved the religious and mythological framed imagery and sculpture! ... if I had a garden or a large house, I would fill it with these statues and a hundred decorated vases!!
Lastly, one of the most recommended places to visit when in Athens was The Poet Sandal maker of Athens, where you could get custom made leather sandals in a variety of styles. Reviews boasted about how they had made sandals for The Beatles, Jackie O and many other celebrities.
The interior is very eclectic and you will keep spotting new things you hadn't noticed before! I was very adamant that I would get some custom-made sandals because my feet are between a size UK 2.5 and 3 ...so I always struggle finding the right sized shoe and often need to add insoles, heel grips, wear a couple pairs of socks etc!!! 
I went for the 'cleopatra' and they fit EXTREMELY well! I firstly had to try on a few soles then the straps were adjusted and clipped with my foot still in them, then they were taken away to get nailed... and it was only around €30! Definitely my best footwear buy in a very long time!
Overall, the holiday was lovely but I wish that we were staying on an island and had taken a day trip into Athens, rather than the reverse. The graffiti bugged me a little because it really was pointless, and the constant hounding from restaurant owners also left a bad taste in my mouth. The food wasn't my favourite and I found a lot of things quite expensive...and that coming from someone who lives in London, is saying something! 
I'd like to visit the Acropolis again first thing in the morning to avoid the crowd as I feel that it was really distracting and also because there were a few other places my boyfriend and I missed due to an early closing time (3pm).

More photos can be seen on my Flickr! : nuvonova flickr - Athens, Greece
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