We had traveled to Athens almost ten years prior to this. We wondered how things would have changed and how much prices would have gone up. A lot had changed since our last visit, they had the introduction of the Euro and the hosting of the Olympics.
The airport seemed hardly changed, it still had a total lack of security. Last time we were here we walked past the customs officer asleep in a chair. Security was a little more beefed up this time. After traveling through some third world airports that ran much more efficiently, we couldn’t believe the set up they had here. How did they manage all the people for the olympics? We got off the plane and immediately joined a huge crowd waiting to go through passport control, they had one line for EU passport holders. There were only a few people going to it, the rest of us were foreigners. We waited for a long time to get through the other few booths that were open. This was the slowest airport clearance we had ever been at. It was only 7am so they probably had minimal staff on. They do have a new impressive metro system that takes you right from the airport into town, it is quite nice because the majority of it is above ground so you see the scenery as it takes you on the hour ride into the city.
We were in for a shock, prices had definitely gone up. Last time we were finding nice cheap hotels for $40 Canadian, now we couldn’t find anything for less than 70 to 80 Euros. ($100 to $120 Canadian) After almost 2 hours of looking we managed to find one place for 40 euros just down the hill from the Acropolis. It was a small box of a room. There was enough space to walk around the bed and that was it. It had shared bathrooms. The owner seemed quite grouchy.
The room had no air conditioning and no fan, it ended up being so hot we couldn’t sleep all night. We asked if he had any other rooms for the 2nd night. He had a larger one in front with a small balcony and ceiling fan, but wanted 15 more euros, we reluctantly agreed. The small balcony did overlook a quaint cobblestone lane with a church across the street. A man sat at the end of the road one evening playing Greek music on his accordion, it was a nice atmosphere as the sun was setting.
We decided to keep an eye out for any better hotels while we explored the town. In another area not too far away, we came across the Pella hotel. It was 50 euros for a large room with air conditioning, a tv, and our own bathroom. It even included breakfast. The owner was a very nice lady who spoke fluent English. This place was a great deal for the price. It even had a rooftop patio. We got the most incredible view of the Acropolis, especially when it was lit up at night. Even our room balcony got a view of it.
We wanted to see the Acropolis again, we hoped the scaffolding would be off of it this time. We heard it was supposed to be removed in time for the Olympics. If it was, they must have put it right back on again. It’s been a decade that we know of that it has been in scaffolding. We walked for about 20 minutes from our hotel to get up to the site. We got our tickets only to have to turn around and go back to get a refund. They had a strict rule of no backpacks allowed onto the site.
Huge bags are allowed with shoulder straps, but our small backpack was not. What to heck do they have against backpacks? This did not make sense to us. They said we could store it at the ticket counter, but how would we carry our camera and all its lenses and other accessories? Sorry the guy said, no backpacks is the rule. We pointed to a guy carrying a huge camera bag with a shoulder strap. He was approaching the ticket area. We asked if that bag was allowed. Yes it was. We purposely don’t advertise our photography equipment by carrying it around in a camera bag. A cheap backpack does the trick quite well, but i guess they want us to walk around town with Lowpro or Canon written all over our bag. We were tempted to take a strap and put it on our back pack so we could throw it across our shoulder. Then would they let us in with the same bag? As we made our descent down the hill we saw many people coming up with backpacks, they would all have to face the same fate as we did.
We spent our time in Athens trying out Greek food in the many tavernas. We couldn’t fill up on enough Greek salad and feta cheese, it just doesn’t taste the same at home. We ate dolmades,(grape leaves stuffed with rice), Jack popped kalamata olives into his mouth like they were never going to be available again. Ouzo( the licorice liquor) came as a free drink with many of our meals. We had Greek yogurt and honey, baklava, lots of grilled sword fish. The large Greek beans in tomato sauce is one of our favorites. One time I decided to order the fresh catch of the day. I hate it when the whole fish comes. It was called a silver breamer. Jack told me not to worry it won’t be a whole fish. Sure enough out it comes with the skin on and the head with its big eye staring at me!
The city had definitely modernized and got a lot more sophisticated. There was now upscale fashion shopping, Starbucks, and trendy cafes. The city had been cleaned up a lot, the traffic was even different. It used to be very chaotic and full of old scooters. Now people actually followed the street lines and changed to newer motorcycles. Some of the prices had just gotten ridiculous, like in the Plaka area, (the main tourist area near the Acropolis) we managed to find a place for breakfast with eggs and toast at a reasonable price. We were really craving a cup of tea, they wanted 3.50 euros for one cup of tea, that’s $5.25 canadian for a tea bag and a cup of hot water! What do they think they are Paris or London? It does seem like Athens and the rest of Greece has become like any other European city now. The cheap days are forever gone.
Some people are really trying to rip off the tourists here, with bottled water for instance. We had a very difficult time finding inexpensive water. A lot of places were selling a 1.5 liter bottle for 2 euros. After looking around we found the same water for 50cents. We were able to get out of the Plaka area and find food at a more reasonable price, but the euro still kills the wallet.
It was really neat to wander around and recognize shops and restaurants that we had been to before. We found the Ava hotel that we stayed in last time, it was $40 Canadian when we stayed in 1997. It was pretty dumpy, we remember the room was dingy and there was a large hole in the top of the wall. We were afraid that someone might crawl through in the middle of the night. We almost fell over when we came across it this time. They had done a major renovation for the Olympics and it was now an upscale boutique hotel at 200 euros a night!!! Like this one, many of the hotels renovated for the Olympics and raised their prices dramatically.
We were strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets and could hardly believe our eyes when we came around a corner. There, in front of a small cafe, sat two large stuffed teddy bears at a set of table and chairs. They were the exact ones we took a photo of nine years ago. I think the clothes they had on were different, but it was definitely the same bears, we took a picture again and will compare the two when we get home.
We spent a lot of time in Athens trying to figure out where we wanted to go next, we had thoughts of Crete or Rhodes, but didn’t know if we wanted to spend 18 hours on a ferry to get there. It would still be high season on both islands, we worried how expensive it would be.
We finally decided to go to Corfu since we could easily get a ferry to head onwards to Italy and then start the rest of our travel through Europe. We really didn’t do much site seeing while in Athens. It was nice to be in a place where we had already seen the sites. This way we could just relax and enjoy the city without feeling the need to run around and see everything.