April 10: Piraeus (Athens).
Last year when we decided to take this cruise, we discussed with my Serbian cousin Jovana the possibility of getting together while we were docked overnight in Athens. We were so happy when we found out that she and her brother Jovan would be able to meet us. Before we left home, we booked a hotel for the one night. What a great hotel it was! As usual, Denise’s sleuthing turned up a gem: the New Hotel, 16 Filellinon Street, near Syntagma Square, in Athens. We would recommend it to anyone who likes a modern, comfortable, conveniently located hotel with a friendly and helpful staff. It was a nicely appointed, small, typically European room with 22 magic eyes arranged on the wall opposite the bed. The Greek superstition is that this charm wards off evil spirits, or something like that, but we just felt like someone was watching us.
We left the ship after a leisurely breakfast, walked through the cruise terminal, found taxis outside, negotiated for a €20 fare, and left Piraeus on our way to Athens. Thinking we might want a personal tour, the driver took us through the harbor area of Piraeus, with its cruise port, big marina, and small marina. The marinas were full of yachts, some of them as big as a house. When he understood that we just wanted to go to the hotel, he picked up speed and got us there without further discussion. When we arrived, the room was ready and we instantly logged on to the internet just because we could. Actually, Denise had business to attend to and was thrilled to have fast response time for a change. We got a text from Jovan mid-morning saying they could be at our hotel before 2pm, so we finished our computer work for the time being and went down to the hotel restaurant for a very nice lunch, complete with really good, dense home-made Greek bread, which was delicious with Greek olive oil. Jovan and Jovana arrived soon, and we spent a little time catching up with family news, then set out for a walk. The reception clerk had outlined a walking tour for us, so we took off in the direction of the New Acropolis Museum, which our port lecturer on the ship had recommended and which we all found to be perfect for our needs. It’s a new museum, clean and modern and containing artifacts from the Parthenon and other Greek sites. The map provided at the entrance clearly identified the best route through the museum’s collection, so we followed it and were amazed by the sculptors’ skill in depicting folds of fabric, horses in various poses, and of course all the people.
We wanted to allow enough time at the Acropolis, so we walked there next, going up the south slope, which was a little steep at times, but which had some interesting piles of stones and the Theater of Dionysus along the way. As we approached the top, we came to the structure before the Parthenon (I don’t know what it’s called), where crowds of tourists had gathered. After catching our breath on a bench with a great view, we continued up the steps and the hill to the Parthenon, walked along beside it as we tried to peer inside, and ended at the viewing platform just past it, with a 360° view of Athens. Before us was a solid mass of mostly white buildings stretching to the base of the mountains ringing the city in the distance. We could even see the Aegean Sea past the mountains. It’s really an impressive view, and one surely enjoyed by the ancient Greeks as well (without all the buildings). The fierce wind at the top reminded us of our last visit here, but it was also raining then and somewhat more uncomfortable.
We then took the more gradual route down from the Acropolis and started walking along Apostolou Pavlou, a pedestrian street with occasional vendors selling things like beaded bracelets, paintings, evil eye charms, bags, and jewelry. Ready for a break, we stopped at a café where we could sit in the sun (the air was chilly in the shade) and have refreshment and more conversation with Jovana and Jovan. I got a cup of hot chocolate, which was very thick, creamy, and delicious. We continued walking along streets with markets selling everything, past the Monastiraki metro stop, a cathedral, and a very small old Greek church until we came to Syntagma Square, the “modern hub” of Athens. Here we sat for a while on a low wall and watched the people and talked some more. Since evening was approaching, we decided to return to our hotel for dinner since we had enjoyed our lunch there earlier in the day. We had a good meal and more good conversation, and then Jovan and Jovana returned to their hotel and we returned to internet-land, where I was able to publish our Israel post.
April 11: Piraeus (Athens).
After a peaceful night of sleep, we were suddenly aroused at 7:36am by a wild clanging of bells from the Greek church across the street from the hotel. It was just discordant nonsense that lasted a minute or so, and may have had some significance for the Greek Easter Saturday observances, but it was a shock to us so early in the morning. After great showers, where the water flowed out in a steady stream of warm water, unlike on the ship, we went down to breakfast. Since we were in Greece, I wanted to try the nonfat Greek yogurt since I have Chobani Greek yogurt for breakfast at home all the time. It was good but just like what I have at home. I don’t know what that means really, if anything. We sat at breakfast until Jovan and Jovana arrived and then went out for a walk in the neighborhood. The hotel is a block away from the National Garden, so we headed there, strolled among the plants, visited a small zoo with birds and goats, enjoyed the smell of orange blossoms everywhere, and marveled at how this peaceful space is available to everyone in this busy city. We could see the columns of the Temple of Zeus ruins nearby and walked towards them for a few pictures.
By this time, we needed to start heading back to the hotel because we were due to be back at the ship by mid-afternoon. We shared sad good byes with Jovan and Jovana. We don’t have a specific date for when we’ll be seeing them again, but we’ll always try to get together whenever we can get to Europe. And Serbia is one of the stops on a Danube River cruise we’d like to take. Spending time in Athens with these two very special people has made this stop one of the highlights of our cruise.
After they left, we packed up our stuff and sat in the hotel lobby (because of its good internet access) for another hour so we could finish the Turkey post. We then asked bellman Spiros to call us a taxi to take us back to the ship. A female driver arrived, who wasn’t particularly friendly and who drove very fast, but she knew where the port was and how to find the cruise terminal gate for our ship. When we arrived and were settling the bill, Denise remarked that it’s great to find a woman cab driver. She smiled, agreed, and said women are always better. So maybe she wasn’t so unfriendly after all.
April 12: Katakolon.
We docked in Katakolon this morning, our second port in Greece, on a partly cloudy and cool morning. Wanting a quiet and leisurely morning for a change, we took our time with breakfast, did the laundry, worked on the journal, and read back issues of the Times Digest. After lunch at the Lido, we walked out of the dock area and were in the main street of Katakolon within five minutes. The part of this town that we visit is only one street long, with shops on both sides, and a waterfront promenade lined with cafes. There are longer walks that one could take, but we just wanted to be lazy and were happy not to be on a tour bus. After a little shopping and using local internet, we returned to our wonderful life on the ship. For the rest of the cruise, we’ll be heading due west!