Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Home from Holibobs: Athens

So, to follow on from Istanbul, we flew on to Athens after four days, using Aegean Airlines, which we were incredibly impressed with. I would definitely recommend them! Brand spanking new planes, the super-duper-more-leg-room-than-you-could-ask-for seats were available for us on all legs of the trip, they played films that weren't yet released in the cinema (Midnight in Paris in case you ask. I wasn't wow-ed but it was cute, great to look at and fun for history buffs, despite its predictability), the food wasn't bad at all and the cabin crew were really friendly. I think I'd give them an 8.5 out of ten!
The view from our pool terrace. Amaze!
Flag at the top of the Acropolis - now I know why their flag is blue and white!
First of all I loved our hotel. We stayed at the Fresh Hotel which is part of the Design Hotels group and it was perfectly located to walk down in to the main squares for restaurants, shops, cafes and bars. We walked to all the main sights and to and from dinner each night. Some of the reports on trip advisor made mention of it being in a seedy area. I thought no such thing. It was just off a main road and I felt perfectly safe walking to and from the hotel at all times of the day and night. The design, styling, layout and facilities were great. The rooms were clean and as spacious as you’re ever going to get in a city centre hotel. The staff literally fell over themselves to be helpful and the breakfast was amazing. Pride of place at breakfast was the orange juice “Squisher” which they love so much they even make mention of it on their website. The rooftop pool is big enough for a dip and a length or two, but it's not there for exercise. It's there for posing with a cocktail and a Kindle! The pool is on a compact sun deck, with a few moveable sunloungers, fixed sunbeds and a cushioned sofa area next to a bar and restaurant, all of which had a direct view of the Acropolis, which was especially lovely at all times of the day – soaking up the afternoon sunshine with a daiquiri after a morning of culture vultureing, at sunset with a champagne cocktail before heading out for dinner or late at night with the Parthenon all lit up and a nightcap. Speaking of nightcaps, champagne cocktails and afternoon daiquiris - the cocktail list was extensive and full of the classics as well as some house mixology and despite making it my mission to have one from each "sub section" of the menu, I didn't even get close. I gave it a good go though!

I would most definitely recommend this hotel, for its location, facilities, staff and design but beware – the colour schemes aren’t for the faint hearted!

Hello breakfast table at the Fresh Hotel
Hello roof terrace!

So anyway – enough about the hotel. The City!!!!

I’d heard conflicting reports on Athens, but most people I’d spoken to hadn’t enjoyed Athens, so I went without any great expectations.
As it happened I loved it. Rome is one of my fave cities in the world. The mixture of old and new really gets my jaw to the floor, and that is what Athens delivered. But I think in a grittier way. People I’d spoken to had complained of urban decay and a dirty city. However, I saw a beautifully urban backdrop for some of the most amazing antiquities in history. In my mind it would be a photographer’s dream! Every time I turned a corner I thought of the amazing Trash the Dress pictures you could get!
Little bit of antiquity on a sunny afternoon
We spent the first day up at the Acropolis, of course. I was so excited to get up there and see the temple built in homage to the goddess that gave the city its name: Athena (also known as goddess of posters and of muscly men holding cute Greek-Cypriot babies!) and the defining silhouette of Athens: the Parthenon. It was amazing. I love a bit of antiquity I do, and this didn’t disappoint!
Afterwards we spent some time wandering in Plaka, perusing antique bookshops, flea markets and olive stalls before a late dinner – Athenians eat late!
The next day we spent some time at the Acropolis Museum which has recently re-opened. The set-up is really clever. You walk around the re-furbished marbles and with the light and space the museum has created you get a real sense of how they must have looked in situ. The best is saved until last though. When you reach the top floor, the reclaimed marbles are arranged in order, in a scale version of the Parthenon with narrative identifying each piece or why the piece is missing and where it is now housed (yes Elgin, we’re looking at you!). What makes it so clever is that the walls are fitted with floor to ceiling windows and you look straight out on to the Acropolis, enabling you to picture how they might have looked thousands of years ago. I wasn’t so keen on the glass floors, not just because of my fear of heights, but because you really can see straight up the skirts of the ladies on the floor above. Hmmmm.
Once I’d ticked that off I was happy to chill out, but we still managed to fill our time with more wandering in Plaka, learning about the birth of democracy in the Ancient Agora and watching the changing of the (very tall) guards in Syntagma Square. We even managed to fit in some shopping. Obvs!

I suppose it depends what you like from your cities, but I like them to feel like cities. I want history, atmosphere and culture all around me. I want all these things but I also want to be able to get my hands on a good cocktail at the end of the day. Athens gave me all of those things. The overall feeling was like being on a beach holiday but with the added bonus of having the city vibe. restaurants, bars, cafes, cute little shops, flea markets crowds of people eating, drinking, sitting, shopping, chilling, commuting, even a few striking on the Saturday, just for the authentic Greek flavour! I loved wandering and soaking it all up.
I will most definitely be going back... hint hint, Mr G...!

One of my fave photos, I managed to snap a Travel Bug!

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