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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Yassou from Greece!

July 1, 2011

I got in to Athens, Greece late last night to find that the riots that have been on the news are literally going on RIGHT outside our hotel. They've even torn up the marble steps of the hotel to throw at the riot police. The Hotel Grand Bretagne is beautiful and classic as a Greek statue. And finally beds that aren't rock hard!

My boyfriend's mom's room looks out over the square with a view of the Acropolis but because of the riots she had to sign a waiver for the staff to unlock the balcony doors. The Acropolis view is smaller than I'd anticipated (it's a little ways away) but is awesome nonetheless.

We dined at the hotel restaurant while we waited for my boyfriend's plane to get in. Our waitress' name was Katerina and she had a huge smile and lion eyes. The food was delicious! We had lamb, ravioli, and tuna tartar with Greek wine which was tasty.

After dinner we hung out in the lobby waiting for my BF and people-watched. We people-watched us four Vegas strippers who looked ready to hit to the pole, I mean town. Sadly, for the BF they walked out the front doors right before we walked in. With everyone finally at the hotel we headed to bed to start fresh in the morning.

July 2, 2011

Today we woke up around 10am to enjoy the amazing buffet breakfast spread on the top floor. They even offer free champagne (they must have known I was coming)! We then spent the next few hours wandering down Ermou Street in Plaka, the old district of Athens. There are tons of stores including a conveniently located H&M where I was able to buy myself some new clothes - FINALLY! We had lunch at an outdoor cafe on Adrianou Street that runs right along the metro. We sat down to a view of the Acropolis and the graffited railway. Lunch was simple but fresh.

Back at the hotel we took advantage of the rooftop pool for a few hours. A beer at this hotel is $12 which is ridiculous so we sniped some of the free champagne. A few hours later we showered and when back to Adrianou Street to have dinner at Kizuna. This restaurant has received Michelin awards for the past four years and they had these feta cheese dumplings with pomegranate sauce that were possibly the best appetizer I have ever had. Our main courses ranged from pork that had been roasting for 12 hours in lime and basil cream to goat cheese and pumpkin risotto.

We were absolutely stuffed and could barely make it home to sleep.

July 3, 2011

Today we were up bright and early for our half-day tour of Athens. Our driver's name was Thanos and he works for a company called Private Greece Tours. My boyfriend had found out about the company on TripAdvisor and had booked a half-day tour for 150 Euros for four people. Thanos arrived in a Mercedes... taxi... that had just enough seats. I would've preferred a little more room as I was the one sitting "bitch" but as soon as Thanos started talking I quickly forgot about the car. He's big, booming voice was filled with the rich history of the Grecian people and their landmarks. We spent the next few hours touring the temples of Acropolis, enjoying the view from the top of Lycabettus Hill, and wandering the ruins that surround the Temple of Hephaestes.

It was sad to see that only a little remains of the original architecture of the Acropolis. The Parthenon commands the center of the hill, but with the flagging strength of an old veteran whose middle has been bombed over the centuries. You can feel the history seeping into your leather sandaled feet as they walk across stones that have been worn through by the feet of Grecians, slaves, Ottomans, Romans and tourists.

The Propylaea marks one of the entrances to the Acropolis and has stayed in fairly good shape as has the Temple of Athena Nike to the right of the Propylaea. One of the coolest buildings was the Erechtheum which has been extremely well-preserved, especially it's columns shaped like Grecian maids. Their robes and curls stand tall to bear the weight of the building roof.

Our next stop was at the top of Lycabettus Hill which was rumored to be the home of wolves. All we saw on our visit was the 19th century Chapel of St. George. The view of Athens from this vantage is breathtaking and gigantic. You can see city in all 360 degrees as the urban sprawl extends to the mountains and the sea.

The last stop was to the grounds below the Acropolis that housed the ancient agora. The agora of ancient Greece was both a commerce center (the market) as well as a meeting place. Within the agora is the Temple of Hephaestus which is the temple that remains in the best shape of all the temples in Greece. It was really cool to see this temple that gives you a bit of an idea of what the Parthenon might have looked like in its original splendor. We also saw the Tower of the Winds, an octagonal building that at one time had a weathervane at the top. Each of the eight sides has a carving of a man, one of the winds. The North wind is depicted with heavy robes and a long beard while the South wind is a fair-haired young man with rosy cheeks and short hair.

At this point we were exhausted and starving so Thanos suggested the best place in Plaka for gyros. Gyros are not served like they are at home wrapped in pita and they are not traditionally made with lamb. Thanos suggested we get them with pork. He was right - they were one of the best three meals I've had on this Europe trip so far. I washed the pork, tzatziki, onion, tomato and pita down with some delicious Greek lemonade. It was extremely refreshing and gave me just enough strength to find a cute pair of Grecian sandals. It was a bit of a bummer that all the regular shops were closed (it's Sunday) since I was planning on spending the second half of the day shopping! Lame. Apparently the main shops close around 3pm on Saturdays and don't reopen until Monday. I guess I'm getting up early before our flight to the islands tomorrow!

We sat around the hotel for a bit before starting our stroll to Gazi, the more "up and coming" area of Athens out past Plaka. You take Ermou street until it ends past decrepit buildings covered in graffiti with sewage leaking into the street. I know it sounds awful. But at the end of Ermou you cross the street and suddenly you enter this hidden area of boutique restaurants and hip nightclubs. It reminded me a lot of Buenos Aires and Abott Kinney. Along the way we saw a little lab who had trained itself to cross the street on the light. The first time the dog crosses on "green" we thought it was a fluke but we stood there and watched him cross another street in the same way. Incredible!

It was a little ironic that we ended up at the Butcher Shop for dinner since my BF's little sister is a vegetarian, but they had plenty of options for her. We ordered flank steak, chicken shish and hamburger. My flank steak was perfectly seared and very tasty. The hamburger was a little overcooked and the tzatziki sauce as a little thick. The outdoor ambiance of the restaurant was magical with lines of little potted trees hung with streams of lights.

After dinner we taxied back. Getting out of the taxi an acrid smell seared the inside of my nose and my eyes felt like they were bleeding. My asthma was rocketing to the surface. I looked up to see a bunch of rioters staring back at me their mouths and noses covered by large, military gas masks. What the fuck?! The swarms of rioters gathered around us buoying us to the steps of our hotel. Moments ago we were discussing going out in Gazi but from the looks of the situation around us there was no way I was leaving the hotel.

Up on the sixth floor we looked out over the massive, angry sea of people crowding around the Parliament. Green lasers searched the walls of the hotels occasionally blinding us. My BF was especially bummed about not going on since our online research had told us that the Athens club scene is legendary. We decided instead to head up to the hotel bar, have a glass of wine, and watch the scene below.

Around the time that we had finished our glass of wine, I had a sudden surge of energy. Riding the wave, we ran downstairs to change and then headed to Gazi before the adrenaline rush died. Stepping outside of the hotel things looked a little calmer which was encouraging. We joined waves of young people dressed in cut-offs and sneakers wielding beer cans as we walked to Gazi. We spent the next few hours drinking and dancing. For a Sunday night it was pretty crowded but no one was dancing which was a little disappointing. Our favorite bars were Secret, Soho and Why Sleep? We grabbed a gyro from a stand on the street and headed back around 2am to ensure we'd be alive to make it to Santorini tomorrow. I was really glad we'd rallied so that we could get a taste of Athens at night.

Overall, I'm very impressed with Athens. Everyone told me it was an awful place that you had to suffer through in order to get to the islands so maybe I just had low expectations going in. Instead I found a lively city filled with friendly people and an amazing array of extremely comfortable sandals (I highly recommend buying sandals from the Athens Flea Market before going to the islands). I would definitely come back here. And with that I leave you looking forward to my posts about Santorini tomorrow.

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