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.
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!
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.
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. :)
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 got off the bus for some lunch before going to the Acropolis.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back home at the Royal Olympic Hotel…
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.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a more elegant bathroom! The tub was huge.
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.
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.
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.
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.