The ferry we caught from Paros to Athens was a much longer trip than Santorini – Paros, and not as comfortable. There was no assigned seating, and only limited seats inside for economy passengers – most were relegated to the tables and chairs on the top deck which, although it was covered, was still exposed to the elements and very windy and a bit cold. It was also a much choppier ride as we left the Cyclades and travelled across less protected waters. The food on board was pretty average too.
Still, we got there early in the afternoon which was nice. We got to our Airbnb apartment without much trouble – it was a bit spartan, but was sufficient for the two of us for four nights.
My thoughts on Athens are a bit divided. You can’t say it’s not worth visiting because it has some amazing historical attractions, and they are pretty cheap to visit. As a city though, it’s unattractive and dirty. We did have some excellent food there though. Our apartment was not far from the foot of the Acropolis hill, and if you walked to the end of the street there was a great view of the hill with the Parthenon on top. We ate dinner at a roof-top restaurant on that corner one night, and had the table right at the end of the terrace, with a perfect, uninterrupted view of the Acropolis. It had pretty standard restaurant prices and the food was excellent – Andre had moussaka and I had spaghetti bolognaise (with cream cheese on top, which was a new idea), and we shared a chocolate souffle and baklava for dessert. I’m normally not a big fan of baklava because I don’t like nuts, but this one had very little nutty flavour and both desserts were amazing.
The Acropolis, of course, was our main reason for visiting Athens. A 12 euro ticket gets you access to about half a dozen historical attractions in the area which is great value. I was a little disappointed by the Parthenon – mostly because the front end (the most spectacular end) was covered in scaffolding (what’s new) and it was not as complete as I expected it to be – I think because parts of it have been dismantled for restoration.
It was still wonderful to visit it in person though, and I also enjoyed seeing the hill of the Areopagus (where Paul preached) – even if that also was a bit disappointing, as there is absolutely nothing left on it (in fact much of the hill itself has disintegrated).
I was surprised that the combination ticket did not include entrance to the Acropolis museum, which is at the foot of the hill. Much of the contents of the Acropolis, and other artefacts found at the site, are now displayed in the museum, which is 5 euros to enter. I couldn’t help but have a chuckle when we got to the top level, where they have the marble friezes from around the Parthenon, and found a large proportion were plaster reproductions as the originals are in the British Museum in London. It’s been a subject of controversy in recent years as Greece has asked for them to be returned and, so far, been rejected. I can’t say I disagree with the British Museum’s response either, seeing as they have them on display for free.
We also visited several other historical sites around the city, including the remains of the temple of Zeus, the Ancient Agora and Hadrian’s library. One day we also went to the Parliament House to watch the Changing of the Guard.
On our last evening in Athens, we found our way to a sports bar which was playing the Australia VS England Rugby World Cup game. There was a majority Australian supporters, although the split wasn’t too uneven. It was full by the time we got there (as we only realised at the last minute that the game was on) so we had to stand by the entrance to watch. It was a good game though – a bit of an education for me, who am used to watching rugby league and hasn’t watched union in years. Pleased Australia won but disappointed England got knocked out so early in the competition! The next day we returned to the same sports bar for a far more important game: the Australian NRL (National Rugby League) grand final – the first time in ten years, and the second time ever, that our team the North Queensland Cowboys had made it to the grand final (and we’ve never won it!). And even better, it was a New South Wales-free grand final (for the first time ever, I think) as we were up against the Brisbane Broncos. To be honest, as excited as I was that we’d made it this far, I didn’t think we’d beat the Broncos. The stats were not in our favour either – the Broncos have won six out of six grand final games, and their coach Wayne Bennett has won seven out of seven (one with another team).
If you follow the NRL, you know the result – the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tipped correctly, and the Cowboys won by one point. Commentators called it perhaps the best grand final game they’d ever seen, and it was a spectacular performance by both teams. The fact the game went into over time was extra stressful for us: we had a train to catch! We made it to the train station just in time though, and made it onto the train with about 8 minutes to spare.