I recently found myself fortunate enough to be invited by a friend to her wedding in Greece. With little time to spare and perhaps even less money, I decided a 4 day Greek adventure would have to do. This is how to pack Athens into just 4 days:
First of all, the underground from the airport is not working at present. This doesn’t mean you’re stuck with a cab, as the bus system is pretty comprehensive. Since I was going to the neighborhood Glyfada, I took bus 96X. The buses cost approximately 3.20 Euros. Taxis are a little trickier: If you’re arriving after midnight (between 12 and 5 AM), they switch to night fare, which is double what shows on the meter. Be careful of cabs that hide their meters as well. (Some of them can be popped down into a compartment and hidden from view.) If you opt for the bus, ask which bus to take at the information counter in the airport. If you take a cab make sure the meter is on and visible, and decide with the driver whether or not you will pay the night fare.
I stayed in a nice hotel in Glyfada called the Oasis Hotel. It had a pool, but the rooms with a pool view face a small freeway and it was only thanks to years of living in Cairo that I was able to zone out the noise. Others were not so lucky. I only had one problem with the hotel: I arrived at 7 AM and needed to check in before 12 or 2 PM and therefore was charged for the night before! I’ve never experienced this rule before but apparently it is accepted as common practice, not just at the Oasis Hotel. Needless to say, I was not pleased.
Ahh… Greek food. I don’t even know where to begin. With Greek salads and tzatziki in abundance, I was in heaven. Our first landmark meal was at Filoistron which is located at 23 Ap. Pavlou in Thisio. If you can manage a rooftop table reservation you’re in luck. The view of the Acropolis is breathtaking and the mezzes (appetizers) offer you the opportunity to try a number of dishes. Specialties include the potatoes with tomato and cheese and the cheese pies.
Another favorite was Psara’s, located at 16 Erehtheos and Erotokritou streets in Plaka. Psara’s specializes in fish, lamb chops and fabulous décor. They have a large space and place their tables down the street, up the street, on a rooftop, and on a terrace. But you need a reservation for a good table on the weekends. Their phone number is +30-210-321-8733.
Greek feta is different from Egyptian feta—less creamy and with a more distinctive taste. It spices up a Greek salad and I highly recommend purchasing some to bring home. It is well packaged and stays for quite a while. If you’re interested, they also sell tzatziki spices (dill, garlic, etc.) and Greek salad spices (oregano, thyme, etc.) as mixtures in packages for travel.
Most European chains have opened in Cairo and have made it considerably less exciting to walk into Zara and Masssimo Dutti in Greece. But the prices in these stores are considerably lower in Greece. Glyfada, the coastal party town, has a nice collection of stores including Massimo Dutti, The Gap, Marks and Spencer and Zara. There’s also a branch of the Hondos Center department store, which has a variety of products from cosmetics to luggage to clothing at a range of prices. Among the stores are little eateries selling sandwiches in freshly baked bread and kiosks with water, chocolate and snacks.
From Glyfada, a one Euro, one-hour train ride will get you to the Temple of Zeus and along the way you will see more shopping possibilities including toy stores and other brands. Keep in mind that EVERYTHING (except restaurants and supermarkets) is closed on Sundays.
If your stay is as short as mine, it is likely you’ll want to pick up something to remind you that you were actually there. While food items are likely to be consumed quickly and forgotten, there are a number of cute knickknacks you can bring home with you that will be, to a certain extent, authentic. I suggest olive soaps (they smell great), gladiator sandals (from the source), and little stained glass candleholders of the islands if you get a chance to travel to them. If you are a mug collector, prepare to be sorely disappointed.
Depending on your level of energy and your time, it may be important to take a trip around the sites of Athens. Some of the most impressive are the Acropolis and the Temple of Zeus. Although the Acropolis is under construction, there is an angle from which you can take a picture that will not include any scaffolding. The trek up is a little tiring (bring a bottle of water), but the view from the top is breathtaking—you can see miles and miles of Athens, the Mediterranean and the hills surrounding the city. The temple of Zeus is also rather impressive, colossal columns rise out of the ground to inspire an eerie sort of awe.
A ticket for each site costs anywhere from 2 to 5 Euros, but a collection of tickets for 12 Euros is your best bet. It is valid for 3 days and will get you in anywhere you would want to see on a short trip. Must-see museums include the New Acropolis Museum, which is directly related to the Acropolis and houses the original ‘Maiden Columns’ you see in plaster at the top of the Acropolis hill, and the National Archeological Museum. Keep in mind that it will take more than one visit to cover the entirety of the archeological museum.
The Greek Orthodox Wedding
Whether or not a wedding will be part of your Athenian journey, it is an important part of Greek culture, as it is a church wedding and not a civil wedding that ensures the state’s recognition of a marriage. Greek Orthodox weddings require both the bride and groom to be Greek Orthodox – if one is not, they must be baptized in an appropriate church in order to have the wedding. The ceremony is relatively lengthy, including reading, chanting, little crowns linked with ribbons, and walking in circles.
Greece is littered with beautiful chapels and if you are planning a wedding in Greece, look for a chapel overlooking the Mediterranean. After the wedding, it is customary to have a reception. This reception was set on the rooftop terrace of a beautiful home—around the pool—where the couple and their guests enjoyed a belini-doused sunset. Apparently a new trend in Greece, the renting of personal leisure space for receptions is a way for Greeks to make a little extra money.
With the proximity of Greece (around an hour and a half by plane) and its relatively reasonable budgetary needs (LE 2000 for an Olympic Airways flight and 100 Euro a night for a double room), it is not a bad idea to plan a visit for even 4 or 5 days. The food and sights are worth the trip and the laid back Greek attitude is bound to put you in vacation mode.