After our wonderful weeklong road trip around Greece, we settled in for nine days in Athens. As is often the case, our first several days were spent catching up on work and getting back into a normal routine. But we made time for seeing many of the tourist sights too, especially toward the end of our stay.
Arrival and Settling In
After our lovely morning in Mycenae, we arrived in Athens in time to return our car at the airport and then took the metro to our neighborhood, called Gyzi, which is adjacent to a hipsterish neighborhood called Exarcheia. It was a long walk from the metro station to our apartment with our suitcases, but we made it and our host was there to settle us in. The apartment was actually bigger than we expected with a nice living room work desk, eat-in kitchen, and good-sized bedroom (review below).
Our first grocery store trip (across the street!) resulted in a bit of sticker shock, but we found a larger, less expensive store about three blocks away on subsequent trips (called Sklavenitis). Our neighborhood also featured a couple of nice parks including Finopoulou Hill (not to be confused with Filopappou Hill by the Acropolis). With 70-degree sunny weather throughout our stay (in November!), we enjoyed nearly daily walks and sometimes picnic lunches. In addition to the parks nearby, we also visited Lycabettus Hill and the National Garden for mid-day walks.
Greeks, like most Europeans, love football and there are a couple of famous teams based in Athens. However, it was the international break during our stay, so no club matches. However, the Greek National Team was finishing up their (unsuccessful) Euro Qualifier group stage with a home match against Finland at the Olympic Stadium, so we decided to check that out. Though it is on the far north end of the city, we were able to get there by bus. With nothing on the line, there were maybe 700 to 1000 fans in attendance and most of the stadium was closed off. However, we were favorably impressed by the Greek fans’ chants and overall enthusiasm. Unfortunately, it was a very late match, starting after 9 p.m. So we left after the first half to catch the bus back to our neighborhood. It was a fun time overall and pretty easy to attend – we just bought our tickets from a booth right outside the stadium (they required our passports for purchase). No beer or major concessions inside, but plenty of chips and soda for sale (which we declined). It wasn’t a great match, but we had a good time and it is definitely a beautiful stadium (which Chad recognized right away as being by the architect Calitrava).
National Archeological Museum
The research Chad did into tourist attractions in Athens put the National Archeological Museum at the top of our list. Like the attractions on our road trip, it was half-price for the off-season. We went in the late afternoon and enjoyed every bit of it, though I don’t think we managed to visit every room in the two hours we were there. We especially enjoyed the Mycenae exhibit, which made us really glad we’d taken the time to visit the archeological site. It was neat being able to see the items found by Heinrich Schliemann, the early archeologist who found the site. We followed up the museum with happy hour drinks at one of the cool bars in Exarcheia. It was a great day out.
Our other priority was, of course, the Acropolis. We again timed our visit for late in the day so we could get some work done in the morning and go straight out for drinks and dinner after. We picked a Friday when the Acropolis Museum would be open late. The Google listing indicated that late-afternoon had fewer crowds than late morning, but it was still pretty crowded. However, the Acropolis site did not disappoint and we really enjoyed this taste of ancient Athens.
The real star, however, was the Acropolis Museum, a beautiful, modern building thoughtfully designed to run parallel to the Parthenon building which tops of the Acropolis. Artifacts from the site are thoughtfully displayed throughout with a good amount of written context provided. Most of the top floor is devoted to the display of the marble pediments and friezes from the Parthenon. In fact, it is so thoughtfully designed that the placement of the marbles stand exactly where they would be at the top of the Parthenon. It is a very cool effect and the museum is in (long) process of removing the originals from the Parthenon itself for their protection and replacing them with replicas. The museum also convinced me that something should be worked out to return the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum to join the rest of the marbles in the Acropolis Museum. I think having them all together would be a really cool effect.
One regret was that though the museum was open late, the archeological site beneath it was not, so we missed out on a closer look at that. But it is all the more reason to come back again in the future. I can recommend the outdoor cafe on the second floor with views of the Acropolis where we revived ourselves with hot caffeinated beverages before going through the museum and the 10-minute video about the Parthenon that is shown on the top floor.
We again followed up our sightseeing with a nice date night out. We walked through the Filopappou Hill park (or Hill of the Muses), stopping by the so-called Prison of Socrates and noting the beautiful landscape. It is a place we intend to visit again to explore further when we come back to Athens one day. Our destination was the Plaka neighborhood, which exceeded our expectations with its cute vibe and a great selection of bars and restaurants. We had fantastic cocktails at a bar called Paribaba, where Chad was able to get his first old fashioned (his favorite drink) of this whole leg. We loved the atmosphere, the soundtrack, and the cocktails were excellent. Chad struck up a nice conversation with the manager and they gave us shots of Greek rum before we left. Then we headed a few doors down to a very traditional Greek restaurant called Oikonomou. Though the food came out really quickly, it was very good and the prices were great (including a half-liter of wine for 3 euros). We hope to stay in Plaka when we visit Athens in the future – it was much more charming than our neighborhood and very close to the wonderful Filopappou park.
A Day in Dublin
We returned briefly to Dublin to catch our flight home, spending two nights and one full day there. This time around we stayed in a far better hotel just around the corner from the basic hostel we suffered through just four months earlier, for not very much more money (review below).
We spent much of our full day in Dublin working because the weather was rainy and cold and we knew it would be our last chance before the flurry of homecoming activity, including Thanksgiving. But we took a lunchtime visit to a lovely mall all decked out for Christmas and bought our annual ornament (an origami swan from a Japan shop). And, we visited the National Gallery in the afternoon, which we enjoyed very much. We capped our day with a traditional Irish meal at The Landmark restaurant on Camden Street near our hotel. It was perfect.
Greece, Athens, and a little bit of Ireland were a perfect ending to the fourth leg of our trip.
Athens Airbnb – We enjoyed our 9-day stay here and felt this apartment was a good value. It is clean, the wifi works well, and the kitchen is very functional. The grocery store across the street is ok (very convenient!), but there is a better one a five-minute walk away on the main road with lower prices. In November, the apartment was a bit damp and the heater didn’t work great, but for a short stay when you’re out of the home much of the day, I don’t think you’d even notice. There are good blankets, so we were plenty warm at night. We liked the neighborhood and found it easy to get around Athens. I appreciated Maria’s excellent communication throughout our stay.
Dublin – Albany House. Great place to stay near St. Stephen’s Green and Camden Street. The rooms are very comfortable, the location is great, and the affordable breakfast is very good. All of the employees were kind and professional. The rooms are a good size and very clean with great bathrooms. We have a unique perspective because we stayed in a private room at a hostel about half a block away and while we love this neighborhood (tons of shops and restaurants and right by St. Stephen’s Green), felt the room at the other place was very small, sparse, and not very comfortable. For about 30% more money we were able to get our room at Albany House, which was about 300 times better (and still very affordable). Highly recommend!