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Backtracking to Athens, Greece

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Since we were really crap at posting whilst in Cambodia, I never got around to posting anything about our couple of days stop-over in Athens, when we left Kefalonia.  (Or indeed anything about Cambodia so far apart from the bit we wrote here)

So in addressing our lapse, I attempt to revisit Athens in a little trip down memory lane…

When we left Kefalonia, we took the bus via ferry across to Athens, and arrived at about 10pm in the capital.  This allowed us to get a good look at the area as we drove through it to our ‘2-nighter’ Hotel Pergamos, centrally located for all the attractions and easy access via the Metro for the airport.

We picked this hotel online, on a whim, as it was central to everything we wanted to see in the day and a half before we got a flight to Cambodia.  It had apparently just been renovated, each room was individually decorated, and had soundproofed windows.  This appealed as we all know just how noisy cities can be, and we needed a couple of nights sound sleep in a proper bed after camping for nearly 3 months!

Let’s just say that the reception staff were the nicest thing about this place – the rooms were smaller than you are led to believe (the bathroom door hits the toilet, and don’t attempt to walk around the bed at the same time if you are sharing with someone, as you will have to ‘Give Way’) and they don’t look like they have been ‘recently’ refurbished; breakfast is minimalist (bread and jam, cold ham, boiled eggs in a large basket (warm if you get up early enough), cereal, juice and coffee/tea (strong and stale)) – all served buffet style so you help yourself – oh and watched over by a very grumpy woman who doesn’t crack her face with the remotest expression of any sort, and begrudgingly topping things up as if it’s too much like hard work; the location is not suitable for a single female traveller, despite reports suggesting otherwise – dodgy-looking men sat around the streets at night, either on scooters or in doorways with no apparent purpose to their loitering apart from smoking and staring; and there are lots of hookers in this area touting their services!

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Actually, that last point may appeal to some, so if that’s what you’re looking for, hey, this is your place! 😉  (Please note – ATM’s are conveniently located at hooker hang-outs in this area, so you can find your girl and get your cash sorted in one hit – the hooker even stands right near the machine to check your balance over your shoulder and see if she can charge you more depending on your affluence.

Anyway, on to the better points about Athens, as I can’t think of anything else to say about the hotel other than we were glad to leave it at the end of our short stay…and it’s within walking distance of everything*.

*provided you are not one of these travellers who doesn’t like walking more than 100 yards before they need a taxi/tuk tuk/bus because ‘it’s much too far to walk!’ – Let me just say, we believe everything within about an hour’s radius is within walking distance unless you are elderly, infirm, or lazy.

Just a short walk (5-10 mins, dependent on your speed) from Hotel Purgatory, I mean Pergamos, you find the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.  (see here for visiting info)

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If you love history, this place is a must-visit.

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Full of statues, artefacts and exhibitions (what types of exhibitions are dependent on when you visit), this is a place that can be visited by any type of traveller, as it’s easy to get around the different areas within the building.

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You have to remember to scan the barcode on each ticket at the scan-post on entry to the different areas.  If you don’t know to do this, a loud beep will sound and you have to fumble about and get your ticket back out! (you only make this mistake once) 😉

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When we visited the Museum, THE ANTIKYTHERA SHIPWRECK ” exhibition was on, which was really haunting and fascinating.

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Combined with all the stuff that is there permanently, there is so much to see!  Take spare batteries, if you’re a photo nut like me.

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There is also a courtyard café on site, which is pricey but lovely and you can sit amongst the statues in the open air (and watch the tortoise wandering about) if you don’t want to nestle in the stylish indoor booths.

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We stretched to a coffee break here, but for lunch we decided to try the café directly across the road on the corner, (red and white colour scheme, can’t recall the name of it though) where they serve an awesome Chicken Club Sandwich, tasty Kebab, wonderful Frappes, and some of the best sweet pastries that we sampled in Greece – and at really cheap prices.  (We went back the next day too!)

We managed to spend over half the day at the Museum (your ticket allows you to go out and back in on the same day) and could easily have spent longer but we wanted to see the Acropolis that day too…which is about 20 minutes walk from the Museum.

Alas, but we dawdled too long in the past at the Museum, and also (as we walked) in viewing the underground excavations being preserved throughout the city (the ones called Kerameikos – I think – are the most extensive, featuring graves and pathways extending under nearby buildings such as the Bank of Greece), and we missed entry for the Acropolis…actually, not quite true – they were still letting people in but we weren’t prepared to pay the full fee for only half an hour!

Still, from down in the cobbled streets below, as you walk from Monastiraki, you get a gorgeous view up to the structure without having to pay…

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and if you walk up through the narrow, stepped streets you find wonderful old buildings…

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which turn out to be abandoned houses with gorgous doors…

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(attached to derelict ones which are now homes to stray cats)…

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There is unexpected street art…

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and you can watch the sunset from the rock platform just to the right as you near the Acropolis entrance, along with a few others who go up there for the same reason – because it looks out over the city and the far-distant mountains;

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the ruins of the Agoras and Temples down below…

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the Acropolis Parthenon above…

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and a wonderful church to the left on the hillside…

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The pedestrian streets leading up to the Acropolis are lined with cafes, shops, and quality Greek restaurants serving traditional fare on tables almost meeting from both sides of the street, where you can socialise like the Greeks and while away the time quite happily late into the night – there is also a good shopping street for souvenirs and novelties just off Monastiraki square; a narrow cobbled pedestrian area with numerous underground and ground level shops selling everything from bags, Ouzo, fake armour, statues and clothing.

You can also visit the National Gardens, the Municipal Art Gallery, Parliament Building, Syntagma cemetery, and The Temple of Zeus…you could also catch the attention of a lovely Aussie guy around the Acropolis running sightseeing Segway tours and spend a couple of hours with him flitting about on 2 wheels…but we didn’t have time for all that exhausting stuff!! (or the money for the Segway tour!)

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It was time for us to walk back from the old part of the city and make sure everything was packed ready for our flight the next day, have a sleep, and then get up for another leisurely wander around the city before lunch and our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia later that afternoon.

We used the Metro to get to the airport as it was cheaper than a taxi and less hassle than bulky luggage on a bus, and it got us there within about 45 mins.  So simple, but after purchasing your tickets, don’t forget to validate them at the station where you embark, or you could be fined a hefty sum for not doing so – or if you try and get away with not paying at all, you could also end up paying a lot more than your ticket would have cost (we know of 5 young travellers who got caught doing this at night and each was fined about 54 Euros when their trip across town would have cost them 5 Euros each).

If you are travelling on a limited monthly budget, like we are (but not budget-basic like a typical backpacker) then you want to keep basic costs down to enable you to do some nice things…this is why we opt for bus/ferry/Metro/walking, rather than internal flights/taxi/tuk tuk.

The Metro here in Athens does a discount if you buy 2 tickets together rather than 2 singles, so this works out better for the budget.

And seeing as the Metro is too boring to take pictures of, have another historic building in Athens (it’s full of them!)

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Anyway, the Metro discarded us at the airport where we then checked in for our flight and settled down with a coffee to read and wait.

Oh, and people-watch – we love to observe.

We also love to wander about aimlessly, checking out what’s around us – usually called dawdling and window shopping.  Passing time in an airport isn’t a great hardship for us, but if we do get a little bit bored we have the trusty travel games to keep us out of mischief…Othello, Backgammon, Draughts, and Uno.  Not to mention good old fashioned pen and paper for a game of Hangman!

Call us sad, but these simple things make us happy.  Who needs alcohol and drugs when you can stimulate your mind in other ways, which don’t cost anything more than intelligence and time!

Off to Cambodia…(well, 18 flight hours and 22.5 hours later, via airports at Abu Dhabi and Bangkok where we could possibly have been spotted playing games, reading, people watching, drinking iced coffee or eating ice cream.) 🙂

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The force of Nature

Having written about beautiful beaches in Greece recently, the storm currently hitting the UK – St Jude, as they have called it – seems a fitting topic for today and it may be a bit of a rant – sorry guys.

I have just read the ‘live blog’ about the storm where they are keeping everyone up to date with the current situation as it happens, and I don’t know why but I am still always astounded at how many people pay no attention at all to the warnings, or even to what they see at the end of their own nose.

Beaches are wonderful places but as with everything, Nature has to be respected because it is a much more powerful force than us Humans!  At the best of times, there are currents, rip tides, dangerous marine life, freak storms, stray fishing nets or lines, hooks, broken glass, buried shopping trolleys, and any other manner of obstacle to our safety.  Care should be taken in the best of conditions, and in the worst it goes without saying.  Or it should!

Hurricane-strength winds to hit Britain in worst storm for 26 years

There is a report of a ‘search and rescue’ undertaken last night for a 14 year old boy who had been swimming with friends in the sea and was swept out and disappeared.  The storm had been forecast well before he undertook to swim, and by the time he was in there late yesterday afternoon, the sea would have been rough already.  Boys will be boys, and they will do something just to prove they can or not to disappoint their mates and appear weak to their peers, but common sense seems to be sadly lacking in all ages these days, not just the young.  I feel for his family greatly for their loss, but one question that everyone needs to be asking themselves is why does everyone ignore the signs that are presented to them and wilfully put themselves in danger?

There are numerous reports about St Jude and the resultant flooding – people are driving vehicles into flood water and getting themselves stranded because they don’t know how deep it is, or whether it is flowing water instead of standing.   Are humans so arrogant that they believe they can beat nature?  Is your destination so important that you will put yourself at great risk by driving into the water, not knowing if you can get to the other side or not – and as a result of your stupidity, other people have to risk their own lives to rescue you.

I have personal experience of having to rescue stranded motorists, as quite a few times in the past (in areas well known for flooding or snow/ice) I had to use my pick-up truck to push or pull people in cars out of floods or off ice, so I am not just talking out of my ass.  Their excuses are always ‘I didn’t know how deep it was’ or ‘I didn’t realise it would be icy’ and their response to my arrival – ‘Thank god you came along when you did or I would be stuck here’.

Really???  Biting my tongue became a pass-time because I just really wanted to tear a strip off them or knock them out with a punch on their stupid idiotic noses.

For those drivers who are putting themselves and their rescuers at risk of losing their lives just because you can’t stay at home instead and have to be somewhere that you believe to be important – GET A GRIP!  You are seriously NOT that important to anyone but yourself.  Work doesn’t give a shit about you – they care about their own monetary losses and productivity – in this day and age, everyone is replaceable by someone who will work for far less money than you did.  You are unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  Get used to it.

If you have to go out for something, ask yourself if it is something life changing if you don’t have it, or if it can wait for a couple of days while the storm passes and life goes back to normal.   Ask yourself if getting stranded in a flood is worth the life of anyone who may have to try and rescue you.  Would you be able to deal with someone dying because you just had to go to the shop for a bottle of wine, or your spoilt brat child had to be picked up from town instead of staying at a friends until the worst is over.

For those kids who believe themselves to be invincible, you are not.  You need to put arrogance and bravado to one side, see the situation for the life-taking risk that it is, and just go home to play on the X-box or update your Facebook page to ‘sat at home in safety – I suggest everyone does the same!’

If you are travelling abroad, stay in a local place of safety or the hotel etc if you don’t have a home to lock-down in.

Updating Facebook with a picture of yourself in front of ‘the biggest wave, ever! :-)’, just before it sweeps you away to your death, really isn’t worth the few seconds of notoriety it gained you with your so-called 1000 friends online.  And that applies to any age, not just the young.

Everyone seems to be so arrogant and self-important that they don’t consider the risks of what they are doing before they do it – the few people who work in the Emergency Services and even the few public heroes who save lives, were not put on the Earth to make up for those who are just stupid.   Emergency Services are there for those who get caught out in a freak situation through no fault of their own, not for those who wilfully put themselves in danger and arrogantly expect someone to be there if their attempt fails.

The human species didn’t evolve to where we are today in order to decline just because we lost common sense and respect, whilst gaining intelligence.  They are very different things and we need all of them to survive, not just one.

Photo courtesy of AOL – http://travel.aol.co.uk/2013/10/25/uk-weather-storm-warning-britain-forecast-winds-october-2013/