Day 16 – Back in Athens

The near constant sunshine of the past two weeks had come to an end. Waking and opening the curtains in the small cabin of the ferry from Crete, the sun was fighting with the grey clouds to do an impression of a sunrise.

Continuing with the good fortune of getting a local hook up for accommodation, a friend was out of town, which meant we were able to stay in their apartment in Plaka – an old part of town under the Acropolis, with cobbled alleys, bars, restaurants, … and loads of (other) tourists. But, it was just a place to sleep (and wash), the real fun was in exploring the town – and this time, with a local as a guide!

I visited Athens in my road trip around Europe, and generally enjoyed all of the historic areas that I saw. But, outside of these tourist attractions, I didn’t really get a great impression of the city itself.

As I’d already done most of the tourist attractions last time (and, seeing as though it hasn’t changed much in past millennia anyway), I didn’t bother going over them again. This also meant I didn’t feel the need to carry around my big camera with me, instead making do with whatever my phone was able to do. So, if you want to see pretty pictures of the city, go look at that post.

The day started with a walk back through Plaka, past the old ruins at Agora, and into the grimier area in the streets around Monastiraki Square, to indulge with a scrub and a soak at a hammam (it would have been even more appropriate if we’d come straight from Gavdos, as was originally planned). Even though I’d spent a few weeks travelling around Turkey, I never got around to having a Turkish bath. It was a great treat, with a full body scrub, and a good amount of sweating – plus all the hibiscus tea and Turkish sweets in the rest area afterwards.

There was both nothing planned, as well as a full day of activity – this makes more sense in my head, than it does written down. It was mid-morning by the time we walked out of the hammam, and the next plan wasn’t until a late-ish lunch up on Mount Lycabettus. So, it was a gentle stroll through the city, past some of the upmarket shopping areas, and to the base of Mount Lycabettus (it is more of a hill, than a mountain).

The weather looked pretty overcast, and there was an occasional drop of rain as we walked towards Lycabettus. I wanted to walk up the hill, because I usually want to walk rather than catch a cable car, but I acquiesced and agreed not to walk up. Turns out it was a brilliant decision, as by the time the little train popped out of the tunnel at the summit, the occasional drop of rain had turned into a full-blown storm.

My friend had organised lunch at a rather upscale restaurant up here on the mountain, Orizontes Lycabettus. The first step was finding someone that could take care of us, as the rain had set of a sequence panic amongst the staff, with them rushing to move other diners out of the rain. They tried to seat us indoors, but the views outside were so much nicer – and some of the seats still appeared to be dry – so we took our chances. The rain increased in intensity, swelling the awnings/umbrellas above the tables until they groaned under the strain of the weight – though, amazingly our umbrella stood proud, and continued to keep us (mostly) dry.

It was an incredible sight, watching the storm clouds pass by, shrouding the Acropolis under dark tendrils of rain. It was a novel accompaniment to an exquisite lunch.

The storm passed, and the skies eventually cleared, almost as though the storm was timed to coincide with lunch. Rather than pay to catch the cable car back down the tunnel, with all its over-the-top advertising displays, we opted to just walk down. I was looking at the people in their soaking wet clothes making their way up the mountain, amazed that I somehow avoided their fate. It was a relaxing walk down, and in places quite wild.

There weren’t any plans until that evening, so we just wandered through the area, passing by many more ancient monuments. I tried, but it was nearly impossible to sneak a quick photo without paying to enter some of the areas. I consoled myself that I’d already paid to get up and close to it once, and just viewing it again from a distance was good enough.

It had been a day filled with luxury – hammam in the morning, decadent lunch, and to top it off, the plan for the evening was watching John Cleese perform in an ancient amphitheatre – Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Unaware that the seating was unassigned, we arrived a touch late, and were left scrambling to find seats, ending up on the far left of the stage – which turned out to be perfectly fine.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from seeing John Cleese live, so didn’t turn up with any expectations. I’d loved Monty Python and Faulty Towers, so was keen to see what he’d do tonight. It turned out to be a bit of a montage and history lesson from his time with Monty Python and Faulty Towers, which was great. I was a little young to really remember Flying Circus or Faulty Towers in much detail, and it’d be years since I’d re-watched any of the movies, so clips and anecdotes from them were a hilarious trip down memory lane, all delivered with usual dry humour. It was actually a little surprising to see so many young Greeks in the crowd, as I didn’t expect it to have been something many of them would have experienced – but, the jokes seemed to have had the whole theatre laughing wildly, so they were clearly versed in the culture.

I don’t think I’d ever considered seeing Mr. Cleese live before, but happening to be here in Athens while he was performing in this ancient open theatre was perfection.

Day 17 – Athens Riviera

It was my last day of this amazing vacation, and the reality of that was sinking in. Tomorrow I would be back on a plane home. But, that was tomorrow, and there was still much to do today. Rather than spending any more time wandering around Athens, we took off to the ‘Riviera’ on the coast around Athens.

It was a scenic drive, reminding me that you don’t to escape to remote island to have beautiful waters in this part of the world – they can be right next to major metropolises, too.

The original plan was to visit the semi-thermal Vouliagmenis Lake, but it had been turned into a private resort, requiring payment to enter and swim in the waters. So, instead drove a little further and stopped at a small cove serviced by a small café, complete with pumping electronic beats. And here a few hours slipped by, sun baking, swimming in clear calm waters, and doing my best to relax and enjoy the now. I was relaxing so hard that I didn’t even take out my phone to take photos. (and, the photos that I did take were deleted from my phone after uploading Instagram Stories… genius)

Even though I’ve spent nearly two weeks enjoying the sunshine, I still haven’t really developed a tan (though freckles have multiplied somewhat). I still needed to be careful of sun exposure, so eventually had to stop this and make our way back into Athens.

However, waiting for me in Athens was the Athens Burger Fest! A fancy lunch yesterday may have been a nice change, but my heart belongs to greasy burgers. This event brought together several of the top burger restaurants in Athens. I was like a kid in a candy shop, truly overwhelmed by choices, as I knew that I’d only be able to eat so many – which was thankfully extended by opting to share each of the burgers.

I won’t repeat myself, but this was the standout of the four I sampled (the others are here):

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The last of the posts from Athens Burger Fest 2019! Athens Burger Fest 2019 #4 of 4 – Double Trouble from Pax Burgers We’d now been at Burger Fest for a few hours, and in that time we’d each eaten the equivalent of one-and-a-half burgers, plus several free beers meant we were getting quite full. It was now also getting late in the evening, and the festival was filling up and queues were ballooning. The original plan was to try one of the exotic game burgers from Big Kahuna, but it looked like a 45-min wait – and I’m not really a fan of crocodile meat anyway… So, we settled on Pax, which was far from a consolation prize. Inexplicably, I was still hungry, so I opted for the decadence of the Double Trouble, with its dual patties, cheese, bacon, tortilla chips, and a little salad. 4 / 5 – By far the favourite from our sampling, not only looking how I want a burger to look, but tasting pretty good, too. #burgerfest2019 #burger #athensburgerfestival #athensburger #paxburgers #burgerreview

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To break up the eating (and make space for more), we briefly left the festival to catch the sunset from Areopagus Hill, watching the Parthenon and distant Lycabettus Hill turn pink in the glowing light. It was beautiful, and not even the selfie taking crowds deterred from the beauty.

By the time we returned back to the festival, the crowds had really swollen. Earlier it was only a few minutes wait to get a burger, and it was possible to find a table or place to eat. Now, the lines snaked back far from the little food trucks, with an equally long line to pick up the burger after they’d made it – and don’t even think about sitting down to eat it!

It wasn’t just burgers at the burgerfest, there were also live acts, including an American hip-hop group, Delinquent Habits. But, it was getting just a little crowded (and I wasn’t really a fan of the music), so we went to go bar hop in Athens instead, starting with the super cool Handlebar, and making a few more stops before eventually conceding it was time to go home to sleep – I did have to get up early for a flight home after all.

It was hard to say good-bye and return to my normal life. Thanks again for the amazing hospitality from everyone in Greece. It had been another fantastic trip and had left me with so many amazing memories of the experiences that will nourish me until the next time.