Sunday, May 1, 2011

Athens: Within the Golden Triangle of Convenience
Athens Metro Line 3 connects the airport with the central city.

Athens' metropolitan transportation system contains the three recently developed numbered (not colored) Metro lines, trams and buses. To travel to the islands, you have a wide range of choices and price points on ferry lines.

Ah, Greece. Talk about a places-to-visit-before-you-die kind of destination. My easyJet flight from Paris-Orly landed me nice and early into Athens' Eliftherios Venizelos Airport (ATH), and all I could think of was "show me the ruins!"

Arriving at the Eliftherios Venizelos Airport. The Attiko Metro line 3 has a terminus here.

Just outside the arrivals hall, you can board the Attiko Metro rail line [3] to reach central Athens; my transfer point for continuing on to my hotel is Syntagma station. It's quite a scenic route during the day when you can see the mountains rising over groves of olive trees, and then it goes underground to become a subway as it approaches the city limits.

Balcony of my hotel, Athens House, which is convenient to the Omonoia Metro station.

I was staying at Athens House, a hostel near the corner of Aristotle and Chalkokondili, where Socrates becomes Aristotle (I'm not kidding, I swear!). Note that these are the Anglicized-Romanized names of the streets, which are slightly different from proper Greek spelling and alphabet. It was walking distance from a Metro station at Omonoia Square. The Omonoia station marks the northern tip of what I'd like to call the "golden triangle," the area within the triangle formed by Omonoia, Monastiraki and Syntagma stations. In other words, this is Athens' very own convenience heaven!

Turning my back on my fans? Just kidding! This was on of many protest rallies at Omonoia Square.

The hostel desk clerk advised me to simply walk south on Athena St from Omonoia Square, instead of taking the Metro, to reach the northern perimeter of the main archeological sites. Good advice, indeed. Walking down bustling Athena St, I saw a shopkeeper putting out a fresh batch of feta cheese so I asked for a small sample. Wow! Feta never tasted this good. So moist and crumbly! Think maybe it has something to do with eating Greek cheese in Greece? Well...

Hadrian's Library, at Monastiraki Square, is accessible for free during the day.

The north side of the Acropolis complex is just a few blocks away from the Monastiraki Square (and its Metro station), home to the Pantanassa Monastery and Tsisdarakis Mosque as well as an expansive flea market. You can see ancient ruins here, particularly Hadrian's Library. Best of all, it's free!

Ermou Street (Greek for Hermes) is a pedestrianized, upscale retail promenade that stretches from Monastiraki to Syntagma Square station, the square across the street from the Greek Parliament. The area between the two stations, on the south side of Ermou, you'll find the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds, as well as Athena's Gate. This is the famous Plaka District, with all the dining and entertainment you've heard so much about.

Tower of the Winds, a short walk from Monastiraki Station south of Ermou Street.

On Ermou itself, in the middle of the street amidst all those modern boutiques, is the tiny monastery Church of Kapnikarea. Don't miss the mosaic icon of the Madonna and Child adorning the south portico of this old structure.

Kapnikarea Monastery sits in the middle of pedestrianized Ermou Street.

At the east end of Ermou is the sprawling Syntagma Square and finally, the Parliament. Every hour, Greek soldiers (evzones) in full regalia do a spectacular Changing of the Guards ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the foot of the Parliament building.

The evzones soldiers during their hourly ceremony, Greek Parliament.

The Acropolis, that sacred hill fortress where the Parthenon and other temples are, has its own Metro station in its proper Greek name, Akropoli. For a good frog's eye view photo-op from city level, walk along Adrianou St behind the Stoa of Attalos, after coming from Hadrian's Library. Then turn left on Asomaton and continue on to Apostolou Pavlou. Alternatively, you can take Metro line [1] to Thisseio, but walking is healthier and more scenic. When you get there, find your spot and then snap!

View of the Parthenon from Apostolou Pavlou Street.

For your return flight out of ATH, allow 1.5 hours of travel time from the city on line [3], and then an additional 1.5 for check-in allowance = 3 hours total prep time. I didn't, so I ended up too late for my easyJet flight to Rome. Luckily, I was able to book a last-minute, not-so-expensive ticket on Alitalia that departed a couple of hours later. I hated being late for the original flight and having to spend extra money on a new ticket, but at least I earned Delta miles with Alitalia.

And while in Athens, don't forget to take a day trip to Piraeus.

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