Sunrise over Plaka
As is my habit, I woke around 6am and enjoyed a lovely sunrise over Plaka and watched the rest of Athens slowly waking up. The BOSS was not impressed by my suggestion to greet the world so I played with the laptop in bed until she finally opened her eyes. I do love the convenience of the laptop but this wireless internet access is a bit of a con. There are several websites listing the "wireless hotspots" around the world but what you discover is that they are all paid services and you have to sign up with different companies.
I am yet to find truly free wireless internet access apart from the Two Sawyers pub in Canterbury.
The guidebooks list the "must see" attractions in Athens as the Archeological Museum and the Acropolis if you have limited time. It also advises to tackle the Acropolis in the afternoon/early evening to avoid the multitude of tourists. However as it is the beginning of May and the tourist season has not yet kicked in, we have been lucky enough to enjoy brilliant (not too hot) weather and have not struck any crowds in the hostels, or the restaurants, on the streets or in the museums. It is turning out to be the perfect time to visit Athens.
Tip # 10. Do not under any circumstances get the "Hop On - Hop Off Official Sightseeing" bus around the city. There is no commentary or anything resembling 'tourist information' provided apart from a recorded message on how to get to the Olympic Stadium. The drivers do not even speak English so don't bother asking which stop is the best for finding the Acropolis or you will get an incomprehensible answer and end up having to get two different trains and walk for an hour because he didn't understand the question. In fact do not get any buses at all, you will end up sitting in traffic for 2 hours for a 2km journey - get trains if you must, or just walk. The distances look much further on the map but as long as you have comfy shoes you'll be right with feet transport only.
I would have liked to hire a scooter but I didn't fancy facing the mayhem traffic. There were as many scooters on the road as cars and the traffic lanes are wider so it makes it easier for bikes to lanesplit. They are highly skilled at this and I did not see any accident or even near misses although judging by the state of their bikes, they are not "precious" about their machines. Seatbelts are optional in cars and helmets are optional on bikes and we often saw riders carrying their helmets rather than messing up their hairstyles. The accepted norm is for the bikes to go to the head of the line at the lights then take off first but as everyone seemed to ignore all traffic laws it was pretty much biggest and loudest got the furthest quickest. There also seemed to be no rules for parking - bikes in particular parked wherever they wanted, mostly on the footpaths.
I have decided that I like Egyptian artifacts more than Greek - I wasn't actually that impressed with the Arc Museum and I wouldn't have listed it as one of my 'must see' sights. There is only so many sculptures and vases you can handle before one starts to look just like another. The information plaques, although lengthy, were not terribly informative, telling you only where they found the article and how they restored it, rather than what is was made of or what it was used for. After two hours my eyes started to roll back in my head and we went in search of a caffeine fix. [I have become quite fond of Greek coffee and I am afraid I may be dissatisfied with the Australian offerings upon my return.]
The Acropolis was a different story - I enjoyed it very much although after months of research in books and on the net it seemed quite surreal that I was actually there in person.
Tip #11. Do not look up from the bottom and do not look at all the red faced, hyperventilating people descending the hill. The climb is not that bad if taken in small stages with lots of breaks and a huge bottle of water.
It was not that crowded at the top and there was a distinct lack of souvenir hawkers and icecream stalls but the construction work overshadowed the magnificence of the monument somewhat. We spent about 2 hours in quiet contemplation before heading back, on foot, to the hostel.
For dinner we hiked back to the base of the Acropolis and settled into a quiet restaurant away from the chaos of the Plaka square*. We enjoyed a delightful pasta and calamari (dare I say it, better than Marilyn's) followed by coffee and baklava.
* There are about 15 restaurants around Plaka square and each of them employs a man to "drag" tourists off the street into their fine establishment. You get hijacked about every 15 feet by well-spoken suave gentleman and the best way to deal with them is not to make eye contact. For the most part they are quite polite and respectful - only the very pushiest actually follow you down the street but if you ignore them long enough they eventually go away.
I was also very pleased to note the lack of McCrap restaurants. In all our wanderings around the streets, we have only seen one - compared to one every block in Hong Kong.