Tuesday, 17 September 2019

First Time in Athens

evan-wise-view over athens from the acropolois

When I left London, I couldn't head home right away. It would have felt too final...like This Is Actually It. Therefore I decided to do a little detour via Greece, took my mind off from everything that had just happened in the final days and explored Athens instead.

The trip itself didn't start too well. My Easyjet flight stayed grounded for 4h so when I got to Athens it was already Tuesday morning. Tuesday itself was a proper Vampire Day. I wallowed in self-pity, cried lots and only made it to the pool, my eyes covered with a pair of sunglasses to hide my red eyes and dark circles. It took me a while to get out of my head and into the adventure - and once I ventured out, life got slowly better.

So here's how I enjoyed life in Greece for the next four days:

kylie-docherty-athens city impressions

The Best Time For Visiting Athens


This is not gonna be an affordable city break as Athens, or better Greece in general, is pricey the majority of the year. Flights with Easyjet from Gatwick between April to early October range pretty much around the £ 300 mark return.

OUCH, I KNOW!

But, let‘s keep positive, it means the city has a sunshine and incredible weather guarantee. I went in mid-August and the average temperature per day was approximately 35 degrees, meaning most of my active time was during the night as it was too scorching in the day. The only way to survive the heat in this scenario is a pool at the hotel of which there aren‘t that many in Athens. However, if you‘re going in August, the city annually celebrates the pinnacle of summer during the full moon circle. It‘s a very special night with lots of celebrations, free concerts and museums to visit. Everyone will be out and about on the streets all night long transforming Athens into a buzzing place.

Where To Stay?


For the third time lucky in a row, I booked an incredible hotel (usually I‘m shit at choosing hotels) and stayed at COCO-MAT Athens BC. It had my name written all over it mainly because the place had everything I could have asked for and more:

  • Rooftop Bar & generous (instagrammable) Pool Terrace
  • Impeccable 360 degree views over the city including the Acropolis
  • Stargazing game was very strong
  • Targeted at us childless Millennials
  • Lots of interesting, young and dynamic people
  • Uber stylish, spacious rooms with queen size beds, super comfy, quiet AND a silent air con
  • Location, literally right in the centre and 5 mins away from all the main attractions and actions
  • Extremely friendly and personal staff
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Bike rental; ever since my solo trip to Vienna I prefer hotels with their own bikes
  • Bathroom Slippers
  • The rooftop bar offers relaxed al fresco dining at night with some sexy beach house tunes (not Vanilla Radio, but equally as good) 

coco mat bc athens hotel views pool and acropolis
Coco Mat Athens BC view rooftop bar

Part of the trip being so enjoyable was all down to COCO MAT BC. I felt in really good hands and knowing this place exists would be reason for me enough to go back to Athens in a heartbeat.

What To See & Do


Uh, well you don‘t go on holidays to hang out at the hotel all the time, however in comparison to my Rome sightseeing, I found Athens had not that much history left and most of the archeological sites are a bit repetitive. During my 4-day stay I managed to visit the following sights:

  • Acropolis Museum. This one was on my hotel‘s doorsteps and I managed to visit it for free during the Full Moon event. The museum boasts with the history of the Acropolis and numerous archeological finds from old vases to sculptures and fresco. The museum is well designed with open planned exhibition space but I felt less engaged and spend overall a good 90 mins. 

museum of acropolis in athens

  • Acropolis and Surrounding Slopes. This is the highlight of Athens, right? Ascending is very steep and most of the stones are very slippery and polished. I would never attempt ascending during the daytime as it is way too hot to cope with the level of steepness. The best time I would say is during the early evening at around 5pm which gives you approximately 3h before closing time to ascend the hill, check out the ruins and enjoy the view over the city. Apart from that there‘s not much to do up there, so once you descend you can also take pictures of the Dionysus Amphitheater in the South Slope and explore more archeological treasures such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus south slope acropolis athens
view from the acropolis over athens
view from the acropolis over athens

  • Less history but more fun is the Museum of Illusions. Similar to the Camera Obscura in Edinburgh, the museum plays with optical illusions and makes for some great picture opportunities. It‘s a fun and playful way to engage with different perspectives, experiment with colours and lights and mess around with mirrors.

museum of illusions in athens

  • Archeological sites on the North Slope. Similar to the Alhambra in Granada, the Acropolis thrones majestically over the city and is undoubtedly the hotspot for attracting tourists. Nearly all of the touristic happenings are centered around the Acropolis making it a bit like the Kaaba in Mecca as you‘ll find yourself circulating the Acropolis all day long. There‘s a mix of restaurants, tacky souvenir shops and of course more archeological sites to explore such as The Ancient Agora of Athens, Temple of Hephaestus or Hadrian‘s Library.
  • Around the Acropolis is the Centre of Tourism with restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops and tonnes of souvenir and jewellery retailers. In that respect, Greece hasn‘t changed in over 20 years, those shops still sell sponges, fridge magnets, spices and everything is cliche coloured in blue and white. Shop owners are a bit intense as they will watch every of your move and you can‘t browse in peace as they suspect you of stealing at any moment. In the restaurants, however, Greeks are super nice and friendly – a whole different level in comparison to Rome.

beautiful streets in athens
museum of illusions in athens
museum of illusions in athens

  • In fact, I met lots of nice Greek people. My taxi driver on arrival was a quirky old lady who didn't stop talking about Athens, the up-coming Full Moon event and where to go and where to avoid. The hotel staff were super lovely when I arrived completely messed up and freezing cold from staying on an air plane for more than 7h and they insisted I should see the rooftop at 1:30am in the morning. A few days later I met a lady who took care of the many stray dogs in the pedestrian and we fed them together AND there's my taxi driver on the final day who philosophised with me over the meaning of life and our internal compass will guide us to the right place. LOVED IT!
  • Monastiraki in the North of the Acropolis is quite the place with a lively square and some quirky shops and establishments around. 
  • Getting lost on a Bike Tour. I ended up not finding the Museum of Illusions and stumbled across a few hidden side streets in Monastiraki which were super pretty. The street Agias Theklas behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seamed with umbrellas and quirky cake and dessert shops. 

bike tour through athens
street with umbrellas in athens
sightseeing tour on a bike in athens

  • Greeks love and know their desserts. There were lots of incredible sweet shops lined up to make sure you'll get your sugar shock. There's one called Kayak early on at the pedestrian zone. Waffles, Pancakes, Bubble Waffles, Chimney Cake and tonnes of Ice Cream. There's more by the Hard Rock Cafe called Hans & Gretel. A huge candy store which serves bubble waffles, chimney cakes and ice cream but all on the sickly over sugar coated level. Right next to it is gelateria Da Vinci and a five minute walk by the ministry of foreign affairs is cake shop Little Kook. It's a paradise!

Hans and gretel bubble waffle desert candy store athens

  • I would have never thought that Stargazing in the City would be possible, but from the rooftop terrace of my hotel, I had stellar views every night. There was no light pollution and a clear summer night sky was visible all night long. Especially during the Full Moon night on Thursday, the views were magnificent. 

full moon summer event in athens greece
Prime spot coco mat athens bc hotel rooftop bar

  • I found a random sticker advertising a local taxi company glued to the gates of The Temple of Olympian Zeus and it turned out to be the best ride I've ever had. Happy Transfer is cheaper than the local taxi services and they do all of their marketing through word of mouth. My driver was super friendly, personal and we've been talking about the deep meaning of life, and how we should always listen to our inner compass as it will guide us to the right places. It was just one of those nice moments that confirmed that there's more to life and something bigger and better waiting for us out there. 

happy transfer sticker taxi airport transfer greece athens
acropolis north slope archeological sites and ruins
ancient greek church north slope acropolis athens

Quite the spiritual trip, right? At the end of the week I felt ready to go home but with a mission. For the next couple of months I'm planning to spend some of my housing deposit on travelling as I'd like to explore and experience as much as life has to offer. I still keep my eyes open for the perfect job as I mentioned in my London post, I will need to go where my energies are reciprocated.

I've been also reading this super interesting book about Life Design and Prototyping Experiences (I'll post something about this life changing book later this month) and this is exactly what I'd like to try out in the coming months.

I'm going to hike the final 100km of the Camino De Compostela in Spain - an adventure which will start tomorrow.

Wish me luck and Thanks so much for reading.

Till next time,
Carolin
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