Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 2: Athens, Delphi, Olympia, Bassae

Map of trip to Greece

26.5: Munich -> Athens
27.5: Athens
28.5: Athens
29.5: Athens -> Delphi -> Olympia
30.5: Olympia -> Bassae -> Gialova
31.5: Gialova
1.6: Gialova, Methoni
2.6: Gialova
3.6: Gialova, Mystras
4.6: Gialova
5.6: Gialova -> Ancient Messini -> Porto Heli
6.6: Porto Heli, Epidaurus
7.6: Porto Heli, Tyrins, Argos, Mycene, Napflio
8.6: Porto Heli
9.6: Porto Heli -> Athens
10.6: Athens -> Munich

26.5: Munich -> Athens
Hotel Platon, Athens. 50 Euro for a small room with A/C, TV, two beds, very small bathroom with shower and hair dryer, WLAN. Value for money is not too bad considering that this is Athens. Room is not too noisy, but the hotel is near a road with lots of traffic which is noisy at night because people make races with their bikes and cars. The blanket is very, very thin, so that it's too cold to sleep with A/C. The A/C is individually adjustable. Friendly staff, they add a bed (well, actually it's a mattress + blankets) for Alissia.
Weather: hot in Munich, fresh in the night in Athens.

The food on the plane is so-so (only one sandwich between MUC and FCO, some bread + cheese and cake between FCO and Athens). FCO airport is so-so: a bit run down and dirty. We land in Athens airport on time at 11:20pm local time. Everything runs smoothly, we retrieve the luggage and walk to the taxi stand. The road to the hotel is mostly motorway, empty at this time. The taxi costs 43 Euro, plus toll and extra luggage this becomes 48 Euro (!). We arrive in the hotel in the Moschato area near the beach shortly after midnight. We  sleep after 1am.

27.5: Athens
Hotel Platon, Athens. The location is stupid: it takes almost one hour to get into town with the tramway (line 1).
Weather: sunny blue sky the whole day, some thin clouds every now and then cover the sun. In the late afternoon the sky is overcast for about one hour. Strong sun, but not too hot, actually surprisingly fresh due to the wind.

We get up at 10:40am and manage to leave the hotel at 12pm. We walk to the metro station and at 12:15pm we take the tramway to downtown Athens (Syntagma). The train is comfortable, quite modern and has A/C. This is an endless trip, first along the coast (many beaches), then across Athens. Athens seems to be a huge conglomerate of residential areas with lots of residential flats. We don't see any impressive architecture, no old buildings until we reach the city centre.

It takes almost 50 minutes to arrive to Syntagma, which lies next to the parliament/presidential palace. From there we walk towards the Plaka quarter, where we have lunch between 1:25pm and 2:25pm. The restaurant we choose is not so good and in fact a bit overpriced.

At 2:25pm we continue walking across the Plaka. There are small alleys, full of shops selling jewellery and tourist stuff. The entire neighbourhood seems devoted to cater to tourists and relieve them of their cash. I can't see anywhere a telecommunications shop where to buy a prepaid GSM card for the mobile phone. We pass by a flea market (in Monistiraki square) where they sell among other stuff movie DVDs (most likely unlicenced).

At 3:15pm we enter the Athenian Agora. This is large area below the Acropolis with ruins of ancient temples and buildings. The ticket costs 12 Euro, but the guy tells us that tomorrow the entrance is free.  We spend the next three and a half hours in the Agora and the Acropolis. On the one hand it takes some effort to navigate through the not plain terrain with a baby stroller, on the other hand I'm not in a hurry, because I'm waiting got the evening sun and light, which should produce better photos. However around 6pm the sky closes and gone is the nice light for about one hour.

To get into the Acropolis you have to leave the baby stroller and bags and backpacks in a locker room.

At 6:40pm we walk down from the Acropolis and head towards the Plaka, where we look for a restaurant. We actually spend another hour, walking across the Plaka, because there is so much to see and only settle down in a restaurant at 10 to 8pm. This restaurant is sort of a Green taverna, with a band playing live Greek music. Excellent atmosphere and good food, but so is also the bill (i.e. the food is expensive).

After dinner at 8:40pm we start walking back to the hotel. Actually we first spend some more time walking in the Plaka around the Acropolis and in fact only catch the train at 9:45pm. Then on the way back we miss the Moschato station and get out one station later. No problem, opposite there is another train waiting for us. We quickly jump. However we again miss the Moschato station, because it turns out that the train does not automatically stop at all the stations - it only stops if somebody presses the red button or if there are some passengers waiting at the stops. We are back in the hotel at 11pm.

28.5: Athens
Hotel Platon
Weather: heavy rain until about 1pm, windy, fresh; after it's overcast and in the evening the sky opens up.

I get up at 9am, Shirley and Alissia at 11am. We are basically stuck in the hotel until after 1pm - no point going out in the heavy rain. Finally at 1:15pm we leave the hotel and walk to the tramway station. We get on the next train at 1:35pm and get out at the Amfitheas station, because Shirley spotted a Vietnamese restaurant yesterday and would like to have lunch there. Unfortunately, by the time we are there it's 2:20pm and this restaurant closes between 1 and 4:30pm.

Never mind, we get back on the tramway, this time getting to the Fix station where we change and take the underground for one station to the Acropolis station. The underground of Athens is modern and well organised; there are escalators at all exits and lifts for the disabled and those who have strollers. We walk again to the Plaka and have a late lunch in a restaurant. The food is not bad, but pricey and the portions are smallish. All restaurants charge 3-4 Euro for the "cover": kind of a service fee for the table. Overall restaurants here are 20-30% more expensive than in Germany.

By the time we finish our lunch it's 3:40pm and it's time to finally get to the National Archaeological Museum, which according to the LP guide is open until 7:15pm on Mondays in May. We get back to the Acropolis underground station and take the train to the Omonia station. From Omonia square it's a 500m walk to the museum, which we reach at 4:24pm. Surprise, surprise, today is a public holiday and the museum has already closed at 3pm...

We then spend some time in the museum park (lots of pigeons and Alissia likes to play with them), then walk back, stop in a cafe for some icecream (local Greek brand of a cornetto, not bad), then are back in Omonia square at 5:40pm. From there we take the underground to Syntagma station, just in time for the 6pm change of the guard in front of the parliament palace.

In front of the Parliament there is a huge flock of pigeons, waiting to be fed by the people. There is a guy who sells bird feed (one small bag for 1 Euro) and who has an instant camera to take photos of people when the pigeons jump on you. The pigeons here are so used to be fed by people, that they have lost their fear and jump on you, eat from your hand, sit on your head and so on. Alissia has a great time playing with the pigeons, watching them sitting on her arms. At one point I have a pigeon on my head and three sitting on each of my arms. We play with the pigeons until 7pm and Alissia has a great time.

After that we look for a pharmacy, but can't find an open one, as today is a public holiday. In Germany there is always an open pharmacy on duty even on public holiday and at night, but here there doesn't seem to be a similar system.

So, at 7:10pm we take the tramway back towards the hotel. At the Amfitheas station we get out and go to the Vietnamese restaurant which this time is open. The idea would be to get a typical delicious Vietnamese noodle soup, and possibly have a more affordable dinner. We are also tired of eating so much meat - Greek dishes are heavy on meat. Surprise, surprise, they have no noodle soups in this Vietnamese restaurant. They could make one on request, but only a small one, not a big one ...? Perhaps they can't bill it, i.e. have no price for a big soup. So we order what they have on the menu. Again the portions are smaller than in a comparable restaurant in Germany and the prices are very much in line with the other restaurants in Athens. Well, we'd like to spend less than 60-70 Euro/day on meals if possible...

After dinner we get back to the hotel, arriving at 9:30pm. I call the car rental and ask them to send the car to the hotel tomorrow at 11am.

29.5: Athens -> Delphi -> Olympia
Hotel Kronio, Ancient Olympia. 55 Euro for a double room with some furniture, A/C, TV, WLAN (which I can't use because it uses the WPA2 protocol), telephone, bathroom, big enough, attached bath with shower. A/C individually adjustable. Breakfast included (7-10am), room is quiet. Good filling breakfast by the way, (eggs, toasted bread, jam, honey, butter, freshly squeezed orange juice, greek yoghurt) - they even serve a breakfast for Alissia even if the room is just a double one.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, some cloud every now and then. Very windy in the mountains, warm but not hot (perhaps 25-26°C).

We get up around 9:30am, pack the things and at 10:30am I'm below in the lobby waiting for the people from the car rental, Pegasus cars, who will arrive between 10:30am and 11am. At 11am they are finally here with the car. Some formalities and then we check the boots. Miracolously the luggage fits all into the car - I was really afraid we would have to take a bigger car.

At 11:30am we finally leave the hotel. After getting lost a bit, we quickly find the motorway and head towards Lamia. We pay two times two Euro toll, then the motorway is free. At 1pm we have a quick lunch in a McDonalds restaurant on the motorway, then continue driving. We leave the motorway in Kastro and drive towards Livadia/Delphi. Lots of street signs showing the way to Delphi, so it is easy to get there. The only problem are those countless speed limit signs, which often do not make sense and often there is no end-of-speed-limit sign, so you wonder why everybody is overtaking you when there was a 50km/h speed limit and you are already driving 55 km/h. Also, some speed limits do not make any sense.

At 2:33pm we finally reach the Delphi site. There is the temple of Athena Pronaia (free entrance) and the main compound with the Apollo temple, the stadium and other ruins. Many tourists, but not really crowded. Quite interesting, although not much is left - you see mostly ruins and can only guess what these structures once represented. Climbing up until the stadium takes some effort, especially if you are carrying a small child who is tired and wants to be carried every now and then. It's not hot due to the strong fresh wind, but the sun is strong.

We walk around the ruins longer than expected - until 4:15pm. Then we head towards the nearby museum, which contains some interesting items from the Delphi site. We are in the museum until 5pm, then head to the Athena Pronaia temple which we previously skipped. Finally at 5:30pm we leave Delphi. We have spent a total of three hours at the site - much longer than initially expected (I was budgeting one hour, but just getting to the top with the stadium took over an hour, including all the photo stops).

At 5:30pm we leave the Delphi site and, after one more stop in Delphi village to buy some groceries, we drive towards Nafpaktos, where there is the bridge which crosses the Peloponnese strait. It takes almost two hours to get there - we only arrive at 7:25pm. In Nafpaktos we have a dinner (souvlaki chicken + a dish of spaghetti for little over 10 Euro - quite cheap for Greece), then at 8:30pm continue driving towards Olympia.

Crossing the bridge costs a steep 10.90 Euro. At the other end I miss the exit towards Patras, which is not well marked and on top of that I drive through a toll point apparently in the wrong lane and it takes some effort and an irregular manouver to get back to the right direction.

Around 9pm it gets dark and everybody is starting to overtake me. There are speed limits, but everybody is ignoring them. There is also the double continous line on the road, which means that overtaking is not allowed, but people still overtake all the time. At one point even Shirley asks why I'm driving so slowly, and when I explain that I'm already over the speed limit, she replies that if everybody is ignoring the speed limit I should do so too. Unbelievable. Anyway, after some time I understand how things work here. This is officially a street with two lanes, but in practive it has three or four lanes. Slow vehicles drive to the right, on part of the hard shoulder and let faster vehicles overtake. Everybody who is not driving fast is supposed to do so. This I why I get honked so often. Speed limits and double continuos lines are irrelevant...

At 10:40pm we finally arrive to the hotel in Olympia and settle down.

30.5: Olympia -> Bassae (Vassae) -> Gialova
Hotel Zoe, Gialova. 70 Euro for a nice big apartment with A/C, bath with hair dryer and bathtub/shower, kitchenette, fridge, sofa, TV, no telephone. Breakfast not included, but the overall standard is high. There is even a pool.
Weather: similar as yesterday, but colder: sunny, blue sky, some cloud every now and then, overcast every now and then. Very windy in the mountains, warm in the plains (perhaps 25-26°C), but cold at the Bassae temple high up in the mountains (just 16°C). Only 22°C at 7pm in Gialova.

We wake up at 9am and have breakfast before 10am. We are still tired of yesterday's long drive (and today as it turns out, the drive will be no fun either). We check out around 10:30am, then proceed to the archaeological site, which is very close to Olympia (just a few 100m, a few minutes walking). Lots of tour buses on the parking and quite a few hordes of tourists as well. The ticket costs 6 Euro for just the archaeological site and 9 Euro for both the site and the museum.

The museum contains a collection of statues, ornamental stuff which once was on the buidlings of the site and bronze weaponry found in the area. The site itself is relatively run down, with very few structures still standing and mostly just blocks of stone lying around. Hard to guess how this site looked once.

At 12:10pm we are done visiting the site (we spent one hour and a half, but could actually have stayed longer, as we did not explore the entire site). We have a meal in a restaurant next to the site - again fried stuff, lots of meat, french fries. We are on a junk diet heavy on fats and meat and low on vegetables. We haven't been able to find healthier food so far in Greece - it's invariably either spaghetti or souvlaki or gyros.

At 1:20pm we leave Olympia and start driving. At first we catch the wrong road and drive towards Pyrgos, then turn back and drive again in the wrong direction this time almost until Lalas. Finally we drive back to Olympia and ask somebody. It turns out that we should have taken the small road in front of the Hotel Kronion... The problem is that the streets in Greece are not well marked, so it is easy to get lost.

Then the nightmare starts. What should have been a short trip turns out to be a long drive on narrow and winding mountain roads, passing by Krestena, Andritsena and finally arriving at the temple of Apollo Epicurius at 3:45pm - almost two and a half hours after we left Olympia. On the way, Alissia feels bad and vomits, no wonder with all those curves. The road is also not used very much and as a result the vegetation grows in from both sides, making the road narrower. There are holes in the road every now and then and there are stones on the road. On top of that there are street signs which make no sense (speed limits when the road is wide and straight) and the entire road has a double middle line (= overtaking not allowed), even if there are sections of the road where overtaking would be safe and possible.

The temple of Apollo Epicurius itself is a big disappointment. It should be removed from the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The entire temple is covered by a white plastic tent, inside all columns are enveloped by a metal structure. It turns out that the restoration work has been going on since 1995 - now in 2007, 12 years later, it is still not complete. Makes one wonder what they have been doing in these 12 years. These people are extremely inefficient.

We just spend a little bit over 20 minutes at the temple site (there is a freezing wind blowing up there), then leave towards the coast at Tholo. The idea is that the coast road should be smoother and with fewer curves. It's just 46km until Tholo, be we need over an hour to cover that distance. The road is in terrible conditions.

Down in Tholo at 5:20pm we take the main road towards Pilos. Great coastal road, wide, few wide curves, almost like a motorway. Only 85km until Pilos. We arrive in Gialova at 7pm. It seems that in the Peloponnese you have to avoid the inland roads and just take the coastal road.

In the evening we don't do much. Nice holiday feeling in the beach area in Gialova. There are many families with children. Almost too cold in the evening to sit outside and have dinner.

Copyright 2007 Alfred Molon