Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DAY 11 - Athens, Greece (Oceania Cruise)

The cruise had come to its end, and we needed to vacate our cabin by 8:30 a.m. Oceania invited us to continue to make use of the ship’s lounges, if we wished; but as we had only one day to see Athens, we needed to move along. For the sake of time, we had room service bring us a Continental breakfast.

Disembarkation was quick. We picked up our luggage in the terminal (see Disembarking Info below), got a taxi from the waiting line
of taxis outside, and were whisked away to our Athens hotel.

While cruising (as an old TV cruise commercial used to say) “we came to believe we were descended from royalty.” So how appropriate that we moved from the ship to the 5-star Royal Olympic Hotel in Athens, where we’d booked an Athenian Panorama room.

The Royal Olympic Hotel, in Athens, is a member
of the Great Hotels of the World Luxury Collection.

The Royal Olympic Hotel, in Athens

Of course, this was early morning, so we couldn’t see the actual room until later (more on that below), but the hotel stored our luggage and we went out to see Athens instead!

The things you see, just walking along the streets of Athens!
This is an archeological site of Roman baths.

Timing was good for us to catch the changing of the guard at the Parliament Building. There, the tall Evzones (Presidential Guards) watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The ceremony is done on the hour.

Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens

Evzones at the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens

Evzones’ shoes and legwear in Athens

It’s more of a “production” on Sundays, with the accompaniment of a military band at 11:00. But the advantage of a week day is that there isn’t a huge crowd (at least, when we were there), and it’s easy to get your photo taken with the guard. Had this been on a Sunday, he would have been in a white skirt (like the Scottish, they call them kilts) and we would have matched. :)

Standing next to an on-guard Evzone in Athens

We had a lot of ground to cover, so we decided to take one of the hop-on-hop-off busses in Athens. (The hotel recommended “the red ones” – City Sightseeing.) The busses run every 30 minutes. If you stay on, the total tour takes 90 minutes; and there’s pre-recorded commentary, via headset, in nine different languages. The original quote was €18 apiece (it covers two days), but the lady on the street, who was trying to sell us the tickets, offered them for €16 each. (Even though she was wearing a branded scarf, we didn’t give her the money until she came on the bus with us. It was all legit, but you can’t be too careful!) For our purposes I wouldn’t say it was the bargain of the year, but it was nice to get the overview of the city that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and I welcomed the opportunity to sit. The day would have plenty of walking!

Here are a few shots taken from the bus:

We thought Athens needed just a few more cars!...

…And Athens is a little short on motorcycles, too!

…But apparently this photographer didn’t think Athens traffic was so bad that he couldn’t stand in the middle of street to get his shot. (What you can’t hear are all the horns honking at him!)

Another shot from the bus in Athens. I can’t help wondering what the look is about.

We only saw this open-air Athens market from the double-decker bus.
With more time, I would have liked going back there to explore more in detail.

We got off the bus for some lunch before going to the Acropolis.

An Athens café

Café in Athens

Greek salad and drinks in Athens 

The food was delicious, but we did feel double-crossed when the bill came and we had to fight it. (See tip at the bottom.)

Next, on to the Acropolis. The Acropolis is currently undergoing restoration, and likely will be for some time to come. Even though it resembles a construction site to some extent, because of what it is, it’s worth it to pay your €12 and see it if you haven’t been there before.

Many of the antiquities are now in the Acropolis Museum nearby. Unfortunately, the museum was closed on Monday, the only day we were in town. (Click here for hours and info on the museum, which looks magnificent!)

The Acropolis in Athens

The Erechtheion, c. 421-406 BC, part of the Acropolis in Athens

The Porch of the Korai, part of the Erechtheion, at the Acropolis in Athens

What a “junk yard” looks like at the Acropolis

“Love in the ruins,” the Acropolis, Athens

In front of the Parthenon in Athens

The Acropolis, seen from the Areopagus (Mars Hill), Athens

According to the information plaque on the site, “A judicial body, the Areopagus Council, met on this hill to preside over cases of murder, sacrilege, and arson. The Areopagus was also a place of religious worship.” It was here that the Apostle Paul told the Athenians that he had seen their statue to the “Unknown God,” and that’s the one he wanted to talk to them about.

Athens has some beautiful architecture (this one in Plaka)…

…and also some once-beautiful architecture.

Plaka, on the northeast slope of the Acropolis, is a fun place to stroll. One of the oldest residential areas of Athens, it’s full of cafés and shops, but is a place where people still live (and in some beautiful neo-classical buildings). Here are a few photos taken there.

Dog surveys the happenings below from a 2nd story window in Plaka, Athens

A true “sidewalk café” in Plaka, Athens

This is less “sidewalk café” and more “stair-step café” in Plaka, Athens.

Beautiful sidewalk café near the Agora in Athens

I have three favorite hotels in Athens: the Royal Olympic, where we were staying; the Hotel Grand Bretagne; and the King George Palace. More photos of the Royal Olympic will follow (it was wonderful!), but we also stopped by to see the other two.

First time I ever took a picture while walking through a revolving door!
(Hotel Grand Bretagne, Athens)

Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens

Hotel Grand Bretagne, Athens

King George Palace Hotel, Athens

The beautiful Tudor Hall, inside King George Palace Hotel, in Athens

Dinner at Tudor Hall can set you back some serious chump change, but they offer a prix fixe luncheon menu for €29, not including drinks.

Elegant little nook at Tudor Hall, King George Palace

Back home at the Royal Olympic Hotel…

Staircase at the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens

We booked one of the hotel’s Athenian Panorama rooms (#505), looking out over the Temple of Zeus. Wow! It was very spacious, and I would describe it as being a formal version of Greek-style décor.

Photo courtesy of Royal Olympic Hotel’s website  (I’m using the hotel website photo,
as it has both the inside and outside exposures right, and my photos don’t!)

A welcomed welcome of wine and fruit waiting in our room! (Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens)

Athenian Panorama room #505 in the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens

I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a more elegant bathroom!  The tub was huge.

Bathroom in an Athenian Panorama room of the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens

I so loved that balcony! (Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens.)

We couldn’t quite tear ourselves away from our view, so we ordered room service and ate on the balcony, watching the changing colors of the sky.

Al relaxes and takes in the view of the Temple of Zeus from our balcony
at the Royal Olympic Hotel.

Reflections from an Athenian Panaroma room at the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens

For the photo above, I stood on the balcony and shot into the room.  It shows multi-layered reflections from the window and the mirror over the arched headboard.

And speaking of reflections, here’s a view of the Acropolis (top right) and sunset,
from the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens

A person could easily have an acceptable room in Athens for considerably less than an Athenian Panorama room at the Royal Olympic. (There are even less costly rooms at the same hotel.) But if you’re only staying for a night or two and can swing the difference, this is one of those experiences you won’t forget.

View of the Acropolis at dusk, from our balcony at the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens

The Parthenon at dusk, seen from the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens

Temple of Zeus at dark, as seen from our balcony at the Royal Olympic Hotel, Athens

The lobby of the Royal Olympic Hotel in the wee hours of the morning

Good-bye to Athens. Our taxi to the airport awaited.

CRUISE DISEMBARKING INFO: Our empty suitcases had been delivered to us the afternoon before. We had several hours to pack them and put them in the hall by 10:30 that night. We wouldn’t see them again until we were in the terminal, after leaving the ship. It was nice to have all that taken care of for us, though obvious thought had to be given to the task so that anything we would need overnight or the next morning, was saved out to put in our carry-on luggage. (With suites that have butler service, you can actually have the butler pack and unpack for you.)

ATHENS TIP: We were told inside the Athens terminal that a taxi to our hotel shouldn’t cost more than €15. The first driver quoted €25; the second one, €20; and we couldn’t find anyone who’d go lower than that. So whether we overpaid €5 or whether the first person was misinformed, we would have done worse if we hadn’t asked at all. And it was quite a distance, so perhaps €20 was right. Either way, it was a reminder to us that we should always ask someone local before negotiating with the seller of the service.

DON’T GET CHEATED: We had a delicious lunch in Athens. While we were considering where to eat, the owner of a café stopped us on the sidewalk and offered to give us an €8 gyro meal for €3. That was quite a deal, so we accepted. Before ordering, we notified the waiter of the offer the owner had made. When the bill came, it was for the full €8 each, plus €2 for the bread that was brought to our table before the meal. The waiter said that the €3 gyros were “a different meal,” and we hadn’t ordered bread. The owner refused to come over to the table, however, the waiter did finally reduce the meal price to €3 each. Al agreed to pay the €2 for the bread we hadn’t ordered, but it came out of what would have been the waiter’s tip.

It’s unfortunate that these things have to happen. It leaves such a bad taste in a tourist’s mouth (no pun intended).

But this is small compared to a friend of a friend, who purchased what she thought was gold and diamond jewelry in Athens, only to find out once back home, that the “diamonds” were cubic zirconia. Unless you have fully vetted a respectable dealer, do you really want to buy expensive jewelry overseas?

A third thing I’ll cover is about paying taxi drivers. One day on the cruise, before a shore excursion, the cruise director warned passengers about a practice that he’d had happen to him – and which Al and I had also had happen to us in Rome. You hand the driver the amount you owe for the taxi ride. He does a quick change (maybe while you’re putting your wallet away), and he says, “You only gave me X amount,” while he shows in his open hand the lesser amount than what you handed him. Our taxi driver actually followed us into our hotel in Rome and threatened to call the police. I said, “That’s a good idea!” and asked the hotel concierge to do just that. With that the taxi driver left. Now we always make a practice of announcing what we are handing over, e.g., “This is €30,” and waiting while he acknowledges it. We live and learn!

Disclosure: We were guests of the Royal Olympic Hotel, but without any requirement that we blog, review, or in any way recommend the hotel.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

DAY 10 - Delos & Mykonos, Greece (Oceania Cruise)

Windmills on the Greek isle of Mykonos

This is the only day on the cruise in which we had two stops: a morning stop (Delos) and an afternoon one (Mykonos).

Al tendered to Delos, a small island of archeological significance for its ancient pagan temples. Though I hate to miss any ports of call, with 11 destinations in 10 days, I decided to stay back, sleep in a little bit, and have room service bring me breakfast to our veranda.

How sweet it was! I had three cappuccinos (they’re small), a bowl of mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, and plump blackberries), a chocolate-chip Danish, and eggs. I ordered one egg, but they must have brought three! (They never skimp, we’ve found.) I think I’ll remember this morning as being so delightful, one that fed me in more ways than one.

Room service on our veranda onboard Marina (Oceania cruises)

Last morning in which to enjoy the veranda. (This is also a lesson as to where you aim the camera when shooting a woman of a certain age in her bathing suit!)

Al also enjoyed his morning in Delos, and I heard a number of positive comments about the island.

Ruins on the Greek island of Delos

Some of the ruins of Delos, Greece, in the Aegean Sea

Al stands on some ruins in Delos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

It only took an hour or so to cruise from Delos to Mykonos, and it seemed to take almost as long to get a tender to go ashore. Mykonos is the only place where we had significant non-weather-related delays in tendering. We hadn’t anticipated the demand or would have gone to the Marina Lounge much earlier than we did, in order to get a ticket sooner.

Some say Mykonos is like a small Santorini. To their point, it’s full of whitewashed buildings with blue trim, and it has some windmills. But few locations could match the topographical magnificence of Santorini, perched as it is, on terraced cliffs overlooking the caldera. Rather than describe Mykonos in a way that positions it as a “Santorini wannabe,” I think it’s better to appreciate it for its own charm.

Fishing boats in the harbor at Mykonos, Greece

Boats in the harbor at Mykonos, Greece

Boat at Mykonos, Greece

Fishing boats on the clear waters of Mykonos

Boats, boats, and more boats.  Oceania's ship, Marina, is seen in the background.

Man decides to cool his feet in the clear waters of Mykonos

Windmills on the Greek island of Mykonos


Windmills on Mykonos

Little Venice in Mykonos

A café in Little Venice, Mykonos

Front-row seats in a cafe in Little Venice, Mykonos

A window in Mykonos

Hello, Kitty

Quintessential Mykonos

Mother and young children in Mykonos

When only the very best will do…Sleeping cat next to empty Häagen-Dazs container

Mother and child in need in Mykonos

Locked door in Mykonos

We had plenty of time to see what we wanted to see on the island – except for Petros. Mykonos has some almost human-sized pelicans named Petros I, II, III and IV. They’ve even been known to walk into shops, not see anything they want to buy, and walk out again!  Since we didn't see Petros, I've included this photo from Grecotour.

Petros goes out on the town in Mykonos.

In the “Know Before You Go” department, it’s important to point out that Mykonos is also known for its wild partying, especially after dark – and maybe during the day at the clothing-optional Super Paradise Beach (not to be confused with Paradise Beach). We didn’t stay on shore past dark, though. After all, there was packing to do! It would be our last night on beautiful Marina.

Sunset near Mykonos, as seen from the cruise ship

View from the cruise ship as dusk falls over Mykonos

A final stroll around Marina’s decks