Athens and Crete

( 7 days stay, ~ 20 mins read, June 2016)

The day of my flight to Athens has finally arrived. Just like any other flights I usually took, I don’t feel so nervous even though it was a long flight. The only bad thing this time was I had a minor fever that seems to be coming and going every few hours alongside with its  associated signs of coughing and a runny nose. I don’t get sick that often but this time it couldn’t have come at a worse time.   I was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Athens with an around 4 hour stop over in Abu Dhabi. The total journey was around 14.5 hours. Visited the doctor a few days before. So I was recovering but not fast enough. Stocked up on lozenges before I flew since buying it might be more expensive once I got to Europe.

Etihad flight EY413 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 2.15am, June 12, 2016 and my 6 hour flight to Abu Dhabi begins. I ordered the no sodium meal since I didn’t want to get thirsty all the time and ask for water. Wrong choice. My tongue at this point couldn’t taste a thing except those strepsils lozenges and now the food itself was tasteless. People who know me would know that I’m usually not very picky with food but I couldn’t bring myself to eat the airline food. I was starting to regret changing my food selection.

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Sodium Free Meal

Reminder : go online and change to normal airline meal for my return flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

Didn’t really have the appetite to eat anything so I just slept for almost the whole duration of the flight. Usually I don’t sleep well in flights and always tempted to watch the show on the in-flight entertainment.

Landed at Abu Dhabi airport at 5.30am (local time). The sun was rising soon. Abu Dhabi airport looked very small for the amount of flights it had to handle especially since it was Etihad’s home base. turned on my phone and thankfully there was free airport wifi. At least there’s something for me to do while waiting for my next flight to Athens at 8.20am. Didn’t have the money to shop and I can always wait for my flight to have my meals anyway (was still feeling sick tho). Went to the gate for my flight quite early so that I can get more sleep. They have a few reclining chairs!

At 7.45am, it was time to board the flight. We got ushered into the airport bus that will bring us to our plane. Had a mix of nationalities on this flight apart from Greeks of course. Got to my seat and tried to charge my phone since I was surfing online while waiting for the flight. Unlike my KL-Abu Dhabi flight, this one didn’t have a USB port. Luckily, I still had my 20000mAh powerbank. And again I slept almost the whole flight. This long haul flight suddenly didn’t feel so long anymore. I wanted it to last longer so I didn’t have to wake up just yet.

These are the places that I visited while in Greece and my expenses are at the bottom of the page.

Day 1 : Plaka, Acropolis

Around 5 hours later, we were approaching the airport in Athens. The beaches down below were beautiful with it’s pristine blue and emerald coloured water surrounded by hills that seemed to be baking under the hot summer sun. Their version of a jungle or forest were shrubs and trees that were far and wide in between. We touched down and I can see that the airport was close to an industrial area and there was also an IKEA store.

I was feeling a bit better now after my long sleep in the flight. Passed through immigration without any problems. Wasn’t asked for an onward ticket or anything. Walked out of the airport almost immediately since I didn’t have checked luggage. I just had my minaal backpack and minaal daily pack that I bought from kickstarter a few months before. It fits quite a lot of stuff if you pack right and don’t shop for things. The main selling point was it met the dimensions of a cabin luggage so you don’t have to check it in. It was a stretch for my 7 week trip though. Might not be able to use it for winter too since I will need to bring winter clothes and shoes.

Anyways, it was quite hot outside just like Malaysia but less humid. Had to walk a bit outside the airport to reach the train station that will bring me to central Athens. Ticket was €10 and took around 40~60 mins ( Update May 2018 : I have just found out during my early morning transit to Athens that there’s also a 24 hour bus service between the airport and the city. Bus X95 to Syntagma Square €6 one way). Double checked that I took the metro and not the suburban trains and off I go.

Looks like the airport was quite far from town. Along the journey, it didn’t look like a lot of people stayed nearby that area. Not so many houses and cars on the highway. There were old and young people coming in the train asking for money, playing accordions etc. I imagined they had a decent life before and now were hit hard by the recession.

I was supposed to meet an old university friend who said he was able to host me for the duration of my stay in Athens, so I didn’t find a hostel. I messaged him earlier when I was at the airport but he hasn’t replied. Since I didn’t have local number just my roaming number, I couldn’t reach him (cheaply) once I got to Athens.

I reached the city at around 2.30pm and since he didn’t reply, I went to Plaka stopping at Akropoli metro station which is close to Acropolis. “Maybe he’ll message me back when he finishes work” I thought. First, I needed to find a place to park my bags. Asked around, and a hostel a few hundred metres from the metro station had luggage lockers.

The Acropolis on top of the hill was obviously in the list of places you must go when in Athens. They had a combo ticket where you can visit Acropolis and few museums around the city for a flat fee of €30 and they give you a week to visit all the attractions stated in the ticket. I paid just €15 with my International Student Card (ISC). You should get it if you qualify. Unlike in Australia, the ISC is quite widely accepted in Europe (maybe not for local transport though). Some Spanish girls were trying to get the student rate as well but their Spanish university cards didn’t have expiry dates written on them. The ISC has to be renewed every year so it has the expiry date written on it.

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Combination ticket to be used within 7 days

It was a hot day and quite a walk/trek up the hill. Didn’t help that I still wasn’t feeling 100%. From the entrance, you’ll have to walk around 20 minutes (depending on which entrance you enter from ( I entered via the entrance near the Akropoli metro exit) to get up the hill to the ancient ruins. This is also assuming you don’t stop along the way to take photos of other ruins such as the small stadium (Theatre of Dionysus) or the view of the city.

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Theatre of Dionysus

On top of the hill, there are several ruins but the Parthenon is the one usually featured in tourism brochures. There were restoration works going on when I visited, so my pictures didn’t look too great with the scaffolds and construction materials around it. Visiting Acropolis and the ruins nearby might take you 3-4 hours if you take your time but since I entered at almost 3pm, I had to rush to finish it all before closing time. The view of the city and its suburbs from the top was breathtaking as well. The view stretches all the way to sea towards the south.

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There was no other way of having a nice picture without the construction works in it..sobs

After the entrance was closed, I left via the same exit and strolled around the streets of Plaka. The area is a tourist area with lots of cafes and souvenirs. It didn’t seem to be too pricey but since I’m travelling for a longer period of time, every € counts. Went online at the hostel where I kept my bag to see if my friend replied. Nothing. It was almost 7-8pm when I decided that I will have to find a hostel to stay. My fever was coming back.

I found a hostel in Omonia near 3rd September Avenue. It’s 3 stations away  from Akropoli on the green line. Costs me around €1.40. If I understood correctly, you can ride on the public transport as much as you like for a limited time (90mins?). There is a large square which also functions as big roundabout for traffic as you exit the station. In the middle of the square, there’s benches to sit, some food and promotional stuff stalls.

The effect of the recession is quite evident here with shops closing down and graffiti on the walls/shops. It also looks like a middle eastern area since there were lots middle eastern people which I assume were refugees from the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. There were also middle eastern restaurants in the area offering cheap food. My hostel itself cost me €12 a night. I paid just for 1 night and extended for another 2 nights after that. My dorm mates were a few American guys but didn’t talk to them as I was still unwell and just slept after getting some kebab (€3~4) and a shower (haven’t had a shower for more than 24 hrs by now).

Day 2 : Monastiraki, Plaka, Syntagma Square

Time to explore the city. Since I stayed around the 3rd September Avenue, it wasn’t too far away from the Monastiraki, which happens to be the tourist heart of the city. I walked heading south all the way which means I get to save on metro rides as it was only around 20~30 minutes walk. I didn’t mind anyway because I wanted to know what I can see between these 2 districts. The Parthenon on top of Acropolis functions as a very important landmark for you to navigate your way to the city. My hostel was to the north of it, hence I just need to head south. Stopped by a bakery near my hostel to buy some tuna bread. Just €1.20 per piece. I still haven’t got my appetite back so I saved a lot of money on food since I just bought bread, kebabs and some water for my stay in Athens.

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Athens City Hall

Along the way, there lots of people plying their business by the roadside but behind their stalls lies empty shoplots with grafitti on their doors. Proof of how the recession has bitten the Greeks hard. I followed Athinas Road which leads straight into Monastiraki. Wander a bit from Athinas Road, you’ll be able to see the central markets and Chinatown (which was not too big and lots of shops manned by Pakistanis and Indians). You will also pass through the city hall (and the square in front of it), the central bank  and other government buildings. There’s an ancient ruin just next to the central bank. How cool is that?!

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As you walk closer to Monastiraki, the effect of the recession becomes less evident. Shops and cafes are full of tourists. At the end of Athinas Road, you’ll see a big square in front of Monastiraki metro station with a nice view of Acropolis at the background. To the west you can also stroll along the flea market. Close to the station also lies Hard Rock Cafe  where I went to buy my friends’ souvenir and more importantly, to use the free wifi. Didn’t feel guilty to ask the password since I was buying something…haha.

A lot of ancient ruins lay nearby to the east and west of Monastiraki. I was mesmerized as to how the ancient, old and new structures were built side by side where a house might have been built 50-60 years ago but next to it is an ancient structure from perhaps a thousand years ago.

As you walk east, you will find ruins such as Hadrian’s Library which was included in my combo ticket I bought the previous day. You will eventually find your way to Plaka in the south east of Monastiraki (if you don’t get lost in the maze of small streets and alleys). Towards the west, there’s Keramikos museum and ancient Agora which I think is worth a visit compared to the other ruins. Make sure to see the opening times for some of the ruins as some close as early as 3pm. But in case you miss it, most of them are open air. Maybe you can peek from the fences to see what’s inside. I also visited Olypieion which is a bit of a walk out around 20 minutes walk from Syntagma Square.

After seeing ruins all day, you might not feel like seeing more hence saving you a few € if you didn’t get the combo ticket. If you plan your day right, you can perhaps see what needs to be seen (including the Acropolis) in one or two days. it was already 5pm and all the attractions has closed.

I decided to go to Syntagma Square where the Greek Parliament is located. The square was the centre of the protest against austerity measures during the debt crisis. Time it right, you will be able to see the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament gates. It is located on top of low hill so you will be able see the main shopping street in front of it. Walking straight ahead along that main shopping street and eventually you will end up back in Monastiraki.

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Parliament Building at Syntagma Square
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Changing of the Guards in front of Parliament

I ended my day looking at the sunset from the top of Aeropagus (Mars) Hill. It also had a great view of the Parthenon. Can be a bit crowded up there if you come late. It’s located behind the ancient Agora so it will be faster to get there if by walking across the park instead of walking around it which is what I had to do because I went after the park entrance was closed.

Day 3 : Archaeological Museum, Temple of Poseidon

I went to the National Archaeological Museum on 28th October Road which was not too far away from my hostel. With my ISC card, entrance was free. Spent around 2 hours there before leaving. My university friend whom I was not able to reach on my first day here messaged me and suggested that I go to the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion. You can take the bus for €6.90 1 way from a bus stop 10-15 minutes walk from the Archaeological Museum. Ask around if you can’t find it. Buses leave once every hour and the journey takes 2-3 hours. The temple is located at the last stop so no need to worry about where you will need to go down. besides, you’ll see the ruins from far away.The bus passes through the seaside suburb of Glyfada and the blue pristine beaches that I saw from the airplane as I landed at the airport.

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Temple of Poseidon in Sounion

Arriving at the Temple of Poseidon, entrance was €4 for students. It is located on top of the hill overlooking the vast sea with no land in sight. You can only walk around the ruins and not in or over it. Spent around 1-1.5 hrs there reading the history and walking the small trails near it. Make sure to leave before the last public bus leaves if you don’t have your own transport. There are a few resorts a few kilometres away but there’s not much to do around the area except it has nice beaches or maybe visit the small towns along the road.

Arrived in Athens around 5.30pm and I managed to meet my university friend that I haven’t seen in ages. He treated me to dinner at one of the restaurants in Monastiraki. Unfortunately, my appetite has not recovered yet. So I just had something light and catching up on what has happened in our lives since we left university.

Day 3 : Free and easy in Monastiraki, Piraeus for the overnight ferry to Chania

It was a free and easy day which I used to just walk around Monastiraki and seeing places that I might have missed the previous days.I had an overnight ferry ride to Chania on the island of Crete at 9pm. Spent a few hours at the Akropolis Museum before picking up my bag at the hostel and going to Piraeus Port where my ferry departs from. I bought my tickets online a few weeks before costing me €38. Initially I was headed to Heraklion but during check in, I asked if I can change it to Chania instead if they had empty spots. It was changed without any charges since there were loads of seats. Talking about seats, it was free seating on the open deck. I still managed to have a few hours of (interrupted) sleep throughout the night. Arrived in Chania around 5-6am.

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Luckily I brought my sleeping bag with me. Had to just strap it to my minaal bagpack tho as it’s not big enough to fit it in

Day 4 : Chania old town, Heraklion old town

The ferry port was a few kilometres from the town centre. So you had to take the bus to get there (€1.70). I managed to squeeze in to the public bus that was waiting for the ferry passengers at the parking area. I imagine it would not be a long wait if you missed it since there were still ferry passengers waiting for buses.

Did not book a hostel for my stay as the ferry did not have free wifi. So had to look for free wifi in town instead. Found a hostel in one of the narrow alleys in Chanias old town (€16 per night) located by a small harbour overlooking a lighthouse. Took a map from the tourist office and went exploring town. The main tourist area is the old town. The old town is basically surrounded by fortifications built hundreds of years ago to protect it from enemies.

Check in time was after 1pm so I had to kill time while waiting. I visited the towns municipal market which itself is a historical building as well as the more modern part of town. Once I was able to check in, I slept for a few hours because I didn’t get proper sleep on the ferry and it was hot outside anyway. The aircond in the hostel was a welcome relief. When I woke up in the evening, I walked along the harbour and the old fortifications surrounding the old town and the harbour. I also went to see the main shopping area just next to the old town but since it was already almost 9pm, shops were closing.

Day 5 : Heraklion old town

The next day, I did a bit of sightseeing along Chanias shopping area and walked to the bus station to buy my ticket to Heraklion (€15.10, ~3hrs). The bus stops at the central bus station which is in walking distance from the old town. The reason why I changed my ferry ticket from Athens was because I would’ve spent 3 days in Heraklion which is a bit too long. If I went to Chania, I would still have to come back to Heraklion as I have a flight out from Heraklion to Copenhagen. Luckily my change of plans worked out in the end.

I booked my accommodation at Heraklion Youth Hostel for 2 nights (€10 per night). It was in an old building near the main shopping/tourist on 25th August Road (what is it with street names being named after dates in Greece?) area by the harbour. It was basic and the dorms had a balcony outside.

Spent the day walking along the harbour and fortress as well as 25th August road and its surrounding areas to experience the vibes. You can see St John the Baptist Church as well as some other old buildings on this road. Basically just had a relaxed day and also an orange juice at one of the shops (€2). For dinner, I had a chicken pita bread. Believe it or not, I still haven’t regained 100% of my health and appetite. I was recovering quite slowly and was easily tired but I still managed to walk and explore. Nothing too physically demanding.

Was asleep by 10pm.

Day 6 : Weekend market, Temple of Knossos, Flight to Copenhagen

I walked a few kilometres in search of the weekend market somewhere to the west of town. You can find a bustling market with vendors shouting and attracting customers to their stalls. It sold mostly local produce such as fruits and vegetables even fish as well as some second hand or cheap imported clothing.

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St John the Baptist Church
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one of the ruins at Palace of Knossos
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Weekend market
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View of Heraklion old town from the harbour

After that, I went to the public bus station located just next to the central bus station to catch a bus to the Palace of Knossos around 20~30 minutes outside of town. (Day ticket €5). It is a place to visit while in Heraklion. However, having been bombarded with ruins and reading about Greek history for days has left me fatigued by it all..haha. Yet I made another trip to the Heraklion Museum because I bought a combination ticket for Palace of Knossos and the museum for €8 (student price). Besides, I had a few hours to kill before I have to leave to the airport. It is also possible to visit some beaches not too far outside of town.

I had to pay for another night at the hostel although I was leaving at around 9pm so that I can catch one of the last few buses to the airport. I managed to take a shower before walking to Eleftherias Square for the bus to the airport. It was a Saturday night so the town was full of party goers. Wished I could’ve joined too. I was still using my bus day ticket so I didn’t have to pay for the journey. Got to the airport 30 minutes later at around 10pm. My flight was at 5am and arriving in Copenhagen at 7.30am (1 hour behind Greece). Let the waiting begin. There was free airport wifi though. It was my first time flying with Norwegian Airlines so I was not sure if they weighed cabin luggages or not.Luckily they didn’t as my bag was heavy and full of souvenirs for my friends.

At 3am, we had to queue to check in. The flight itself was pleasant and empty. I slept the whole 3 hours of the flight.

That ends my trip in Greece. Wished I could visit other islands such as Santorini but didn’t have the time or money to do so (around €100 for a 1 day return trip from Crete).

Summary

Athens was a beautiful city where the modern and the distant past were side by side. It’s quite unbelievable that a ruin next to your house can be more than 1000 years old!

Similarly in Crete, the old and the new were next to each other and the proximity to the middle east is felt here through the weather, architecture and the surrounding nature.

Total expenses for my 6 days in Greece (including Heraklion-Copenhagen flight but excluding KL-Athens flight) : Approximately €260

Accomodation : €72

Transport : €125

Ticket to attractions : €30 (all on student prices)

Food : ~ €25-30 ( I was sick so I didn’t eat that much)

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