Hayley and Ella spent the rest of the day venturing out around the area, being followed down (and subsequently crossing and walking away) roads by men trying to have a one sided conversation and deciding that Athens is something like a cross between Rome and Marseilles. Rome for the male population and Marseilles for the interesting smells and spray-painted architectural decorations. We found the flea market and bought the first of many many souvenirs.
On day two we walked down the steps in the entrance of our hostel, stood on the doorstep for half a second, and were approached by an Athenian local guy. It really is like they’ve never seen a female before. Though it is possible that pale strawberry-blondes/gingers are a rare breed in that area. We went out regardless and made out way to the very pretty national gardens just off Syntagma Square (popular on news reports recently but quiet on that particular day) and enjoyed finding the small zoo in the centre. We found the temple of Zeus, which took over 600 years to complete and has since almost entirely fallen down. As with most of Athens, you really have to use your imagination – what was once a large structure with lots of columns and a large statue of the God himself, is now a dozen single standing columns in a large roped off field. Still, was cool to see, and hard to imagine. Across the road we wandered into the Plaka area, an old part of the city dedicated to the art of souvenir hunting and purchasing, and therefore perfect for us. Unsurprisingly it became one of our favourite parts of the city. We had a quick souvlaki for lunch (when in Rome) and started back to the hostel. Craving fruit, we scrounged up a couple of Euro in coins and asked for two Euros worth of grapes at the fruit market – and ended up with a 3kg bag. Woops. We had a rest and went out for a night time stroll for a proper dinner, then considered asking some friendly policemen to escort us home down the dingy streets but flagged the idea and made it back to the hostel without even getting hassled once.
The next day we got up early (or at least, early enough) to see the changing of the guard at the palace. Since our hostel had no breakfast provided, we had to find some on the way, and in doing so found out that Greek people apparently do not eat breakfast. Everywhere we went we could only find coffee and sandwiches... After our sandwiches, we bought tickets for a two day hop-on hop-off bus tour of the Athenian sites, and used it to get to the palace as our first stop. Usually the guard changes every hour on the hour every day, but since it was midday Sunday it was the most attended and traditional ceremony of the week, where the guards wear costumes with 400 pleats in the skirts that they have to iron themselves. The guards there are chosen mostly on military service but also for their height and physical condition, for as our Lonely Planet guide book pointed out, the tights would not look nearly as good on a shorter, wider soldier. The ceremony was very formal, with a band leading the procession and the police moving the tourists out of the way. One of the best parts was when a stray dog (found everywhere you go in Athens) joined in the parade by walking alongside, and sometimes ahead, of the lead marcher. It looked like the kind of thing he did often, and since Greece allows cats and dogs free reign over the city, there was nothing anyone could do to stop him. Afterwards, we rejoined the bus to go to the Acropolis museum, and saw many of the original parts of the Acropolis along with various other finds. Next stop was the Acropolis itself, where we had a look at the theatre of Dionysus and got overheated walking back up to the Parthenon. Again, it was very hot and windy, the marble paving was still dangerously slippery, and it was now free because it was the first Sunday of October – otherwise, it hadn’t really changed much. However, this time on the way back down, we encountered a tortoise out for an afternoon stroll and stopped for a chat. We took the bus home again and got some much needed rest.
On the second day of our bus ticket, we took the alternate route to Piraeus, the port of Athens. After the muesli bars that we had brought for breakfast, we got off the bus for a scenic picnic in a surprisingly very safe feeling part of the harbour. We headed home again, stopping only for a 1.79 euro bottle of sangria, which we drank out of empty jelly cups, and rather enjoyed. It was our last night in that hostel, which we were particularly thankful for so we could get away from the constant sirens/alarms/shouts through the night, the filthy floor and no power points in the room. For $20NZ a night, you really do get what you pay for.
Our move to a new hostel was exciting, as we had decided to splash out for Ella’s birthday, which was the next day, and book a private room. There was a minor hiccough in finding it (Hayley decided a scenic detour might be nice) but found it not much later and instantly liked the general area a lot more. It was even painted white with blue shutters and doors. We went back into town, stopping only at Hayley’s old favourite kebab place as we were so close now, and found an old roman cemetery, talking our way into the gates without paying. Turns out, tortoises are fairly common on ancient sites, as we found a whole colony of them here. Back to markets that we found on day one to spend the rest of our money (again) before a quiet night reading and hunting down kebabs.
On Eleanor’s birthday (her 22nd) we got up and paid for a real life breakfast with real life toast with fried eggs, bacon and coffee, then set out to do what we do best. We found the mall for a spot of shopping without much hassle, bought a few gifts for ourselves and went back into the gorgeous Plaka area for a nice lunch and wine. We both shopped more and drank more on the way home, and were even greeted with a ‘hey baby’ by a man walking the opposite way. A man with grey hair and a walking stick – it seemed to be more of an automatic reaction to the presence of females than anything else. We raided the supermarket for a nutritious dinner of all things in the pointy bit of the food pyramid, and spent the night devouring it all and watching click flicks.
Suddenly, it was our last day in Athens. We had muesli bars in bed and left the hostel to finally try a ‘frappe’ – the cold coffee drink attached to the hands of most locals we had passed throughout our time in the city. Turns out, they were delicious. We spent the rest of the day drinking these, reading in cafes and on park benches, eating souvlakis (had to), and packing. It was a particularly enjoyable, quiet and cruisy way to end our trip to the capital.