There are three places that Chad and I knew we wanted to go when we were planning this trip. Taiwan, Thailand, and Greece. Every other place we have gone has been because the circumstances were right, the flights were cheap, accommodations were plentiful, etc. I feel that God has opened certain doors for us and has shown us where he wants us to go in this way. When we were in Lisbon, figuring what to do next, Greece did not seem to be working out, we couldn’t find flights, places to stay, or even decide what we would want to see in Greece. We both really wanted to see Greece, but thought that maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for this time in Europe.
It wasn’t until two days before we were to leave Lisbon, and 13 days before we had no other place to go or stay, that Chad found a perfect flight to Athens, Greece online,. We booked our tickets and then worked to both agree on what we wanted to do in Greece. Then we found inexpensive and awesome places to stay. It worked out even though we had doubts, and now here we are in Greece! God is good!
We started our time in Greece in Athens. We had been told by many friends that an extended stay in Athens is not necessary, you can see everything you want to in one or two days. Our friends were right. We had a day and half in Greece and saw all the major sights and felt we were ready to move on to our next destination.
We stayed free at a Novotel Hotel in Athens using our miles from one of airline cards. We like to stay in places we find on airbnb.com, locally run guest houses, or hostels usually, but every so often, when you are on an extended trip, it is nice to stay in a place with a pool, room-service and a maid. It’s a fun change for a couple of days.
After researching for a bit, I found a perfect way to see the sights and entertain Zoë at the same time (I know, I almost couldn’t believe it myself… I actually found something on the internet without Chads help… I have to say I was pretty proud of myself). I found the Happy Train, a little red train that takes you to past the famous sights and to some shopping areas and such. It had mixed reviews, but was inexpensive at only 6 Euros each for adults. Zoë loves “choo choo’s” so I knew this would be a great way to see the touristy part of the city.
So, on our one full day in Athens we decided to take the Happy Train and get off at the Acropolis and see that up close.
We got up and had our free breakfast buffet at our hotel (seriously… accommodations that include free breakfasts are the best!) and then headed down to the metro. The metro was a bit confusing to use, as I didn’t see any maps in the stations. But with google maps we were able to figure out what line and direction we were supposed to go.
The Happy Train is about a 2 minute walk from the Monistaraki Square metro stop and is in the midst of the Monistaraki Flea Market. The flea market is filled with leather bag and shoe stores, souvenir shops, outdoor eateries, and other stores. We walked through it for a bit before hopping on the Happy Train. We also got some waters and snacks for the trip on the train as we had read that the sun (and pollution) in Athens can dehydrate you quickly.
The Happy Train takes one hour to go through all the sights, including the Acropolis, Plaka, Temple of Zeus, Thisseon, Ancient and Roman Market, Zappeion, Panathinaiko Stadium, Theatre of Herodes Atticus, Hadrian Arch, Monastiraki Square, and New Acropolis Museum. We were going to get off at the Acropolis right away, but decided to take the whole hour long trip and then have lunch and get back on the train up to the Acropolis then.
Most of the ruins are right near the Monastiraki square and you can walk around them and take pictures in them until 3 pm every day. It was interesting to see the marble columns in different states of decay amongst the trendy looking outdoor eateries and shops. The train moved slowly enough to get a few pictures in of each sight. Zoë had a blast on the train and I was glad that we decided to see the old structures that way. The only complaint I would have with the train was that the sound system was very hard to hear, and although the “tour guide” did speak in both Greek and English, we couldn’t hear anything she said. Also, I should have researched or bought a guide book telling about the places we were going to see on the ride, I regret not having more information about what we were seeing. The train was great, but it was up to the customer to know and learn about what they were seeing.
We ended up having a very long lunch at a restaurant in Monastiraki square, it was a bit touristy of a place (I am sorry that I didn’t even get the name, but most of the places to eat there offered the same things), but the food was tasty and they really loved having Zoë there.
The Greek people we have met so far, have loved playing and trying to entertain our little girl. She has been a conversation starter and ender, too. She lets us know when she wants us to be done talking, in the sweetest way possible of course. She is learning many lessons of politeness and kindness on this trip.
Anyways, back to the matter at hand, we hopped back on what we thought was the Happy Train, but later learned that there are many other companies that use the same kind of trains, on the same route, with the same stops. I think we were on the wrong train, but the driver didn’t even ask for our tickets. Like I said, it was the same route as the Happy Train, with apparently the same sound system as we still could not hear any of the announcements. We happily enjoyed our ride up to the base of the Acropolis though. We exited at that stop and made our way up the hill, excited to see the beautiful stone structures built as early as the 8th century BC.
We came upon a little touristy area near the entrance to the ancient gates leading to the Parthenon and noticed that we needed to buy tickets to enter. It was 12 euros per adult, but Zoë was free and they even had a free stroller storage area which was very nice. Strollers are not allowed and once we made it through the entrance, I realized quickly why. There were many stairs and slippery areas on the way up to the top of the acropolis. The marble steps were worn down by millions of feet traipsing over them for the past 2000 plus years.
The Acropolis is… well I cannot express how I felt walking up to the Parthenon and the Old Temple of Athena. I was awe-struck. I still cannot fathom how they were able to build such massive and impressive structures so long ago, and the fact that they are still standing for the most part…well I was (and am) just flabbergasted by it.
We walked around the outside of the buildings (you are not allowed to walk through them as they are being repaired, actually the parthenon was full of cranes and half of it is covered in scaffolding), took a bunch of pictures and read the plaques that gave a picture at what the buildings used to be. This is another area where I wished I had a guide book. I learned about Greek history in school, but seemed to have forgotten all of it. I had to research all the history after the fact. You can learn more about the history of the Acropolis here.
We left the Acropolis, took the train back and went back to our hotel. All-in-all it felt like a really busy day, but we saw everything we wanted to see in Athens with the Happy Train ride. I think it was a good choice.
Have you ever been to Athens? What did you think? What was the best way to see the sights?