Croatia here we come

17 July 2014

With an earlyish flight to catch we ate a quick breakfast, packed our bags and made our way to the metro to head to the airport. In fun news the Athens airport has definitely taken the cake for most worthless security screening we’ve seen on our travels. We had to laugh as any computer or iPad that went through the x-ray machine was then picked up and ‘inspected’ by their screeners. This inspection didn’t consist of anything more than picking it up, opening the lid of the laptop or cover of the iPad, looking at it to make sure it really was iPad or laptop before sending you on your way. Mind you they weren’t asking people to turn them on or anything like that, they just looked at them as if that would make sure the x-ray machine didn’t miss anything. It’s almost as if they heard what the TSA was going to be doing with requiring some people to power on their devices to prove what they really are, but it got lost in translation and the end result was this. We first flew to Rome for a short lunchtime layover before taking off for Dubrovnik early in the afternoon.

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As we began our descent I looked out the window in awe of the mountain side. It was one of the most beautiful locations to land in. And it just got better as we rode the bus into town along the coast. We quickly knew that we were going to like it here and have a great time exploring.

At the main bus station we met the owner of the apartment we rented thru air bnb and upon our pick up we were on a quick tour of the town. He pointed out a variety of restaurants, markets and of course the essentials like the bus stop and where to buy tickets along with the various walking paths to the beach and old city. In a matter of 20minutes I felt like I had my city bearings and we could easily make our plans for the next few days. As he dropped us off at our apartment we could smell something was cooking, he had prepared enough mussels for a small village to enjoy that were drenched in garlic, butter, lemon, olive oil and parsley all for us. After a beer and a few more pointers and things to do in town while checking out the city map we were left to enjoy our meal and our home for the next few days. It was so weird to be able to walk from room to room and of course have a kitchen and washing machine

Today’s Travel: Vueling flight 6127 to Rome after a two hour layover onto Vueling flight 6736 to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Accommodations: Apartment Surprise in Dubrovnik. Upon our arrival at the bus station, Mladen, the apartment owner, took us on a brief city tour including the main sites, highlighted the location of ferries/boats to other local islands, beaches with approx. walk times from the apartment, bus stops and a few recommendations on places to eat. And when we arrived at the apartment dinner, beer and wine was waiting for us. I can’t think of a better way to start a vacation. The apartment was spacious and clean with lots of storage space and included an enclosed patio which was a perfect place to enjoy dinner or just lounge. Plus the booking process could not have been easier and Mladen was quick to respond to all questions and upon our departure even recommended some beaches to visit since we were making our way thru the islands.  If you find yourself in Dubrovnik look up this apartment on Air BnB.

Beach Day

With the weather still not looking like the best beach weather, we decided not to care and to carry on with a beach day. We took the metro to the bus to Vouliagmenis beach. The beach was nice enough and we enjoyed laying out on the beach chairs soaking in what little sun poked through the clouds.

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After a few hours and a few light rain drops here and there we packed up to head back into town. While it wasn’t what I had dreamed of swimming in the Mediterranean in Greece it still was an enjoyable experience.

After walking by it yesterday, today we made our way inside the grounds of the Zeus Temple. The temple only has a columns remaining from its original design but they are more than enough to give you the scale and grander of this temple during its heyday. Walking at a brisk pace it would probably take a good 15 minutes to walk around the perimeter of the temple footprint.

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Also just outside the far side of temple was Hadrian’s Arch, which now serves as a gateway to a main street and busy Athens. It was another reminder of how this city balances preserving the old while still continuing to grow. To me this is always interesting to see how cities walk this fine line.

The evening provided us with a nice stair workout. We headed up to Leviticus Hill for sunset and while we knew there was a funicular to take you to the top, we didn’t know the entrance was halfway up the hill and up many many steps.

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We had arrived just before sunset and were reminded that we are back in the land of lingering sunsets. We had become so accustomed over the last two months to very short and quick sunsets, so today was another reminder in resetting and readjusting our travel to our new city.

Today’s Travel: Walked up the street to the Omonia to Elliniko hopped on the E22 bus to Vouliagmenis beach it was then back to the hotel to change and head back out from Omonia to the Acropolis station and up the street to the Temple of Zeus the we walked up the street Syntagna to Evangelismos and took a nice walk up the hill which included a few flights of stairs before arriving at the funicular to the top of Leviticus Hill

Accommodations: Economy Hotel

Getting ready for the storm…

15 July 2014

That never showed up. Our original plan for the day was a trip to the beach, but with last night’s news forecast and weather.com showing that today would be a rain filled afternoon, we decided to listen to the forecast and change our plans to a day of wandering the local neighborhoods.

We went out mid-morning to Monastiraki square for lunch at Sigalas-Bairaktaris. The tasty gyro were well worth their very reasonable 2 euro price tag. We then continued along to the Plaka neighborhood to check out more of the side streets.

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Soon we were near the Zeus temple and since the walk back to our hotel would take us past the Parliament building we of course had to stop at the gelato shop. At that point the wind was kicking up the leaves in the street and it looked like it was about to rain.

The other day at the market the lady at the meat and cheese shop gave us a few options on places to buy wines in town. Since it was after 4pm that day the wine shop was closed so with the impending store we decided today we be a good day to check out this shop.

The store owner had barrels in the back of the shop and field plastic liter bottles of his wines. Since these were the cheapest options in the store and with an expected storm we picked up two. As we drank our rose we kept checking out the window to see the rain. While it looked like it might rain from time to time it was all just for show. So we enjoyed our time inside talking about our future travel plans for the rest of this trip and all the places close to home we are excited to visit.

Somehow after our afternoon of wine drinking it was now time for dinner. We stayed close to our local neighborhood and found a great falafel shop appropriately named Falafellas. These were seriously the best falafels and we were also excited to find another great cheap eat option in this city. Finding great food at a reasonable price is always a fun challenge that we happily take on in every city.

Today’s Travel: Wandered from our hotel to the Plaka neighborhood with a stop at Monastiraki square for lunch at Sigalas-Bairaktaris for a take- away gyro for 2 euro then as we made our way back towards Parliament we had to stop for more gelato/sorbet before picking up wine just two doors down from our hotel, that evening we walked over to Falafellas for some of the best falafel pitas we’ve had.

Accommodations: Economy Hotel

Ancient sights of the Ancient Agora

14 July 2014

After waking up late since we had stayed up to watch the game (well, Adam made it up to watch the game and I just made it to the half) we spent the morning just being lazy. And as we decided what we wanted to do for the day we made use of the afternoon to catch up on writing (I may or may not be about a month behind in actual writing complete thoughts) and posting. We then enjoyed another picnic meal from the snacks we picked up at the market on Saturday before making our way out a few hours later. While I it felt like we were just being lazy, I have to remind myself that we are just being smart avoiding the crowds and sun by touring sites late in the day.

Our first stop was to an area that looked like a large archeological area on our area map that I wanted to check out. All we knew was that it was called Kerameikos and it was on our way to the ancient agora. Turns out it was a rather unimpressive old ruins of a cemetery so we did a quick once over before making our way onto the agora. Unfortunately all random wanderings don’t end up as successes.

Our next adventure was ancient agora. We knew where it was located however we didn’t know where the entrance was. It was just our luck that we took the long way around and looped all the way around the entire complex, unknowing to us until we left that we actually walked by a smaller entrance tucked behind a restaurant early on in our walk. Walking around ancient Agora thru the ruins and looking in on how people in the past lived is always a fun experience

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We walked around the area near ancient agora looking for a good place to eat. Since it was still early most places were closed that were further off the tourist path so we made our way back to the tourist strip to have an early dinner. After dinner we wandered back down on of the side streets to the grocery store to pick up some beers to pass the time as we sat on the wall between the main tourist drag and ancient agora for some great people watching.

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Soon it was time for our movie date night at the Open-Air Cinema at Thisseion which was showing ‘The Railway Man.’ It was a great film in a wonderful location and to make it even better there was the option to have beer or ozou with your popcorn. And for the first time ever we enjoyed an intermission at the movies, what year is this?

Not too shabby

Not too shabby

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Today’s Travel: Walked to Kerameikos then on to Ancient agora after which we wandered the many side alley’s looking for a cheap good place to eat then up the street again to drink beers on the walkway sitting on the walls that divide the new city from the ancient one before walking into the theater

Accommodations: Economy Hotel

History old and new

13 July 2014

Our day started with a trip to the Sunday flea market at Monastiraki square. It was less of a traditional flea market and more along the lines of an antique fair with a line of tourist shops lining the path to the main section of the market. Because it was Sunday certain of the square were filled with vendors selling everything from old coins, to telephones, cameras, tea sets and even a disc man (maybe he will put the guys selling cassette tapes all over town out of business).

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The stalls that were a permanent structure were filled to the ceiling with various pieces of furniture. As we peered in, Adam commented, ‘don’t you think this is what the inside of an old Greek women’s home would look like?’ And I think that is a very accurate description. It was like going to a more modern day museum looking more modern day life in Greece and what people have come to collect and discard.

We left our hotel just after 4:30 to make our way up to the Acropolis.

DSC_5306It was a fairly quick walk and we were at the top just after five. While the Parthenon usually gets the most love, for me the Erechtheum was my favorite building to sit and marvel at. To me the Parthenon while amazing in scale and design just looks like one giant construction site. While the Caryatids on the Erechtheum were just replicas, we had seen the fully restored ones up close at the museum yesterday and surprisingly it didn’t take away from the buildings beauty. Whereas the Parthenon was mostly new stones since it has suffered so much damage over the centuries. Also as it’s constantly under repair, the scaffolding and crane at the site really take away from the beauty of the site. In our opinion it’d be better to just stabilize the remains that are there and not insert in new stones to try and rebuild everything. After taking a slow saunter around the grounds we just sat at the north side of the Parthenon watching the sun slowly set just waiting for the perfect light. If you are going to just kill time in the evening in Athens, there really is no better place.

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The view of Athens from the Acropolis

The view of Athens from the Acropolis

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Its just adult sized legos

Its just adult sized legos

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The Erechtheum

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At 7:30 we decided it was time to leave this beautiful spot and make our way down the hill to dinner. We did make a quick detour to the rock that looked over the ancient city of Agora and look back up the hill to the Acropolis.

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With world cup fever in full effect, Adam stayed up to watch Germany play Argentina, I only made it thru the first half.

Today’s Travel: A walk around the Athens FleaMarket and Monastiraki Square and a late afternoon walk to the top of the Acropolis and back to the Psiri neighborhood for dinner

Accommodations: Economy Hotel

Touring time in Athens

12 July 2014

We started the day with a walk wandering thru a few neighborhoods to the new Acropolis museum.

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Outside the front of the museum

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Here we learned about the history of the Parthenon from a nice 15 minute video and due to the preservation efforts saw the saved sections of the top of the Parthenon in an exhibition that took up the entire perimeter of the third floor. To see these sections of stone so close and in the comfort of a nice air conditioned building was nice, but at the same time knowing that what I would see up on the hill at the actual Parthenon would be replicas was slightly disheartening.

The museum was also home to many artifacts found at the archeological dig just below the museum and in the surrounding areas plus many statues from Greek mythology. As we wandered thru and reading the placards I was reminded that I wish I remembered what I had learned in 6th grade about Greek mythology. I found myself thinking, ‘yep I remember a little of that story and who this god was,’ as I walked around the statue or looked at the artifact behind the glass.

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On our walk towards parliament a nice gelato shop caught my eye. While I can’t eat gelato I assumed Adam would want to try some. As we walked in we were offered some samples and when I turned a sample down and got a weird side eye, I then stated I can’t have diary. And to my surprise I was then offered three flavors: melon, peach and lemon sorbets that were all diary free. OMG, I think this just might be the best news of the day if not year! So after taking a sample I of course had to order two scoops since I thought I would never be able to have something this sweet again. While it didn’t have the creamy taste of gelato it was close enough for me.

We continued on and our timing was almost perfect we had to wait about 10 minutes before the changing of the guard at ceremony at the Parliament. The perfected and synchronized movements as the new guards came to their post and the other guards came off duty was fun to watch.

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Who wants to play footsies?

Who wants to play footsies?

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Because we are in the land of feta and olives we could not pass up the chance to pick up some snacks. We went shopping at the local market which happens to be just around the block from our hotel to pick up, meat, feta, olives, almonds, dried fruits, wine and fresh fruit for picnic lunches and dinners for the next few days. Living on a budget here really isn’t so bad.

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That evening, we wandered the streets of Psiri to Monastiraki square where we walked up a side street to enjoy the beauty of the evening’s supermoon. I wanted to walk to the west side of the Acropolis to try and get better views of the moon behind the Acropolis but once I realized that would be another 30 minutes of walking I decided our current view was good enough.

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Today’s Travel: A walk to the New Acropolis Museum then over to the Parliament building and taking in all the neighborhoods we wandered thru

Accommodations: Economy Hotel

The ups and downs of travel

11 July 2014

We started the day with what can only be described as a laundry debacle. The day before we had dropped off a few bags and paid $36 for our clothes to be washed and dried; I guess my expectations for what laundry costs and how it comes back to you were set too high in Asia. We picked up the bags last night and what we had were three bags of half wet clothes that were just stuffed into the bags, no folding and definitely no ironing of the undies. Plus Adam’s khaki shorts were now a slight red so we made our way back to the place to complain. At the price we paid it was on principle. It took two trips to the shop the first one we were told the owner would be there in 20 minutes and the second time we waited around for a while before getting some of our money back. So in the end it was a $20 laundry day. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t that big of a deal, but on this trip we are trying our best to live on a set budget so every dollar counts.

After our morning fun, we wanted to check out Vilayet Cami mosque as it was just around the corner from our hotel and we had walked by it so many times that it would be a shame to miss seeing it.

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As we walked in we were quickly asked to leave as the mosque was closed to visitors. I had already forgotten from the day’s prior that Friday prayer is something everyone attends, kinda like Easter or Christmas for Catholics.

Our trip would not be complete without one last pida and tea. There was only one waiter at the restaurant and since we had been there so often and had a few short chats with the guy as a thanks he gave us two complimentary tea after our last lunch in Istanbul a Hoca Pasa Pidecisi

It was then off to the airport to make our way to Greece, a place that has been on my most see list for years! As we were walking between the tram and the metro we ended up taking a wrong turn, but it turned out well as we got to see firsthand just how important Friday prayer was. With the mosque about a block away the streets were filled with worshippers kneeling on small rugs. As someone who isn’t very religious that visual was just so profound and like nothing I have ever seen.

And the complimentary delights continued on our flight as we were served wine and food. I guess this is what it is like to travel on a non-budget airliner.

Once we landed we took the train into town and caught the metro before walking up the street to our hotel.

This makes it perfectly clear which direction we should go for the train

This makes it perfectly clear which direction we should go for the train

After settling in we wandered around the Psiri neighborhood where there were plenty of restaurant options. We finally settled on one. I guess it was our lucky day as we had a complimentary dessert at dinner which was a large plate of delicious fruits. I guess my joke to our waiter about not caring about the wifi password because we actually planned on talking to each other was well received. And to think we have been on the road and with each other 24/7 for a little more than seven months and we still have plenty to discuss.

Today’s Travel: The tram to the metro to the airport and then on Aegean Flight 3993 once we arrived it was then on the metro for another hour before reaching the city center and a few block walk up the road to our hotel

Accommodations: Economy Hotel. After living in hotels, guesthouses, hostels, campsites and apartments for the last 200+ days, the reception at Economy is by far the best. Upon check-in we were given a very quick and detailed description of how to get to the main sites in Athens along with the prices and where passes could be used and for how long. Plus on our way out there was also someone at reception available for help. The location is also another big plus, near the Psiri neighborhood which has many great restaurants and bars and just a few blocks from two different metro lines in either direction. The room had enough space and storage for two and the balcony was a nice place to enjoy a glass of wine from the shop just two doors down or from the refrigerated case in the lobby. Sure the room was outdated, but it was very clean and to me that is more impressive as you really have to maintain older rooms. Plus I don’t visit cities to spend time in my room, I wanted something clean, comfortable and near public transportation so I can explore they city with ease.