I am blurry eyed and mighty pissed off this Monday morning. And I have no one to blame but myself. What should have been done yesterday or perhaps a day ago, is being done in the wee hours of the morning. Because somewhere in the last few days, I overstuffed my basket of ‘tasks to finish’, lost focus and forgot to type out the post that had been mentally written down a week ago.
I am a basket case this Monday morning! But a basket case who has reminded herself of the decision to prioritize. Any tips on that?
Monday morning rant aside, it’s time to address some questions that have come my way in the last few days. Its summer – and this statement will keep popping up the next few months – and everyone is planning their summer holiday! And I have been peppered with queries about Athens.
There is not much you cannot do in Athens primarily because tourism is among the main industries, the people are helpful and you will be too distracted with the scenery to do anything out of turn. Nevertheless… a few pointers.
* Public transport is the best way to travel when in Athens. You have a choice between buses, taxis, Metro rail and in some areas, the tram line. I strongly recommend you opt for the Metro system. Why? The Metro stations are located at regular intervals, the frequency is high and the system covers most of the city. Stations are located close to many prominent sites like the Acropolis of Athens and Syntagma among others.
* Grab a map of the Metro station from the information centre at the airport or a major Metro station. Tickets can be bought from dispensing machines at the stations. Remember to keep cash handy for the tickets and do not forget to validate these tickets before using them. And since some of the Metro stations are little museums with beautiful displays of excavations and artefacts.
* The Athenians are proud of their Metro system and they make all attempts to take care of it. So no eating or drinking in the train or station – water is an exception.
* When heading to the beach, use the tram service. It’s a pleasant ride in more ways than one! The air-conditioned coaches ply frequently, are in good condition and take you through areas of Athens you would miss.
* Athens is a tourist destination. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It is a crowded place. You would do well to remember the need to manoeuvre around these crowds when out and about in the city.
* Athens is a city built on hills. This means not all of the roads are straight walks. There are quite a few roads that go uphill, walking areas at the archaeological sites are uneven and some areas in the city have cobblestone roads. So forget your favourite pair of wedges and flip flops. Athens requires you to put on your comfiest pair of sneakers/ walking shoes during the day.
* Carry cash with you, not enough to get you robbed but enough to pay for a meal at a local tavern. While most places do accept credit/debit cards, you might step into a tavern in a remote place where the owner will accept payment only by cash.
* The Athens airport has a fairly decent Duty Free area. You will obviously not find the bargains that you will in the street markets, it is a recommended stop if you want to grab those last-minute gifts like local food and spices, knick-knacks for children, local snacks and locally made beauty products.
* You CANNOT visit Athens in a day. The city has been around for centuries and expecting to be able to cover it in a day is ridiculous. And if at all push comes to shove, I suggest you spend the day chilling at a roadside tavern instead of rushing around in the afternoon sun and getting a heat stroke.
* Athens and most of Greece live up to the hype around them. Those ridiculously beautiful picture postcards are not photoshopped. So take the time to enjoy and experience where you are instead of cramming too many places in your itinerary.
* Pickpockets in public transport, especially the Metro during rush hours. The concierge at our service apartment warned us to be alert when using public transport and whilst walking through market areas. Despite precautions, however, we lost our only camera to a pickpocket onboard the Metro train. Luckily, it was just the camera and not other essentials like passports or credit cards.
* Across tourist destinations in the city, you will bump into women and young girls carrying baskets of flowers. They will insist on giving you a pretty bloom but unless you are willing to part with some money, do NOT accept the flower. Similarly, do not succumb to the flattery of groups of young men who will insist on ‘doing friendship’ with you, hand over a friendship band and then harass you for money. Both of these are popular ways of earning. Be warned of little children who run a similar scam.
THINGS TO BUY (OR NOT)
* Olives and all things with olive! You will never find olives as tasty as the ones you will have in Athens so grab a few packs for home. When I decided to bring some to India – after a layover in Bristol, United Kingdom – I picked up olives flavoured and soaked in oil. I would have loved to share a picture but they were polished off in a few days. Yup! That’s how good they are.
* Ouzo! How can you not buy yourself some ouzo? If you are allowed to carry alcohol into your country then do bring back a bottle or two to enjoy the feeling of Athens long after.
* Athens is famous for its handmade leather sandals that are reminiscent of the drawings from Ancient Greece of men and women wearing their thong-like slippers. You can grab some stylish or more traditional ones from stores in Plaka and Monastiraki.
* You absolutely must buy organic beauty products from Athens. From shampoos, soaps, balms, healing ointments to makeup, these products are made from ingredients like volcanic rock, sheep or goat milk, olive and olive oil and they work wonders on your skin.
* Local handmade artefacts like the Pythagoras Cup and copies of the archaeological sites. Handmade and hand-painted tea coasters also make for lovely gifts.
* Hammered metal jewellery!