Monday, June 17, 2013

Every Mile a Memory ( Part 13 ) Our final destination Athens


This is the last destination of our Adriatic Cruise aboard MS Noordam. We will be docked overnight and tomorrow -- Lulu and I will go on our separate destinations once more.. Lulu will fly back to the States and I will fly back home to the Philippines.

We docked at the Port of Piraeus at 8:00am. The Port of Piraeus is the main port of Athens and one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean sea. We did not have any shore excursion today because we are going on a Hop On Hop Off  ( HoHo ) tour on our own.  This port is 7 miles from Athens. Being a very busy port and hosting a couple of cruise ships in the same day, our ship docked at TERMINAL A –  This terminal is right by the main cruise terminal building where you will find a duty free shop ( where you can shop before you return back to the ship ), a cafe with wi-fi internet service and a couple of small souvenir shops. The temperature today was 26 degrees. So before we left the ship for the day, We made sure we had our shades, hat and a bottle of water to keep us hydrated on a hot day.

As we walked outside the terminal building, we were swarmed with taxi drivers. Since Greece was celebrating their Easter, a public holiday in Greece -- most of the places were closed. Most of the famous landmarks were closed too but according to our cruise director there were some shops and restaurants that will be opened. After getting confusing directions on how to get the Hop on Hop off bus from the port to Athens --- we were able to find the Hop on Hop off parking area. There was a lady waiting at a booth that will check on your voucher where you can ask any question about the schedules and  a map with the different routes.  She will give you also a pair of small earphones that you will plug on the side of the bus. The commentary is available in 11 languages explaining the history from ancient times until today.

How to get to the Hop on Hop off station from the Terminal: 

As soon as you get out of the Terminal building--  you have to walk along the water which is a 20 minutes walk from the Terminal  --- you would see the big Metro station. One landmark is an overpass with escalators and elevators if you are on the other side of the street.

As soon as the bus arrived, Lulu and I jumped in and proceeded to the top of the double decker bus. The stops are written in English and you will have no problem following the maps. The Hop on Hop off buses have 2 routes--( blue and red ) that are all color coded which makes it easy to follow signs when transferred between lines. The Athens Tour ( Red Route ) takes approximately 90 minutes and traces the history and culture of Athens. The Piraeus Tour ( Blue Route ) meets the Athens Tour (Red Route) after 30 minutes at the Acropolis bus stop. You can jump from the one line to the other, as many times as you like, and visit every little corner of this amazing city.

( courtesy of google images )

Here are the places where we went on the Hop on Hop off bus :

The main attraction in Athens is the ACROPOLIS. It's marred by scaffolding as they slowly repair the huge temple, but it's still an amazing man made structure. So tall and over powering, it stands over Athens and you get a great view of just how huge Athens is with buildings sprawling in all directions as far as the eye can see.

THEATER OF DIONYSOS -  is an outdoor theater which is located on the edge of the acropolis.

TEMPLE OF ZEUS - The few columns which remain standing give a sense of the majesty of the original building. The Temple of Zeus is more like ruins, but well preserved despite the columns having toppled to the ground. We weren't able to go in the gates because they close around 3:30 during the winter, but we could see perfectly and get great pictures through the gate without getting right up next to it. This Temple was created for Zeus who was the chief god of Greek mythology, so this structure holds strong historical and cultural significance.

HADRIAN'S ARCH - Built in 132 A.D. in honor of Roman Emperor Hadrian by the citizens of Athens, the arch or the gate was supposed to have divided the ancient Athens from the new one. The new town, the part of Athens was also known as Hadrianopolis. This is worth seeing and is a great photo opportunity. first built in 131 AD, the arch leads to the largest temple in Greece, the Temple of Olympian Zeus. 

PLAKA - just down from the Acropolis is the Plaka District. This area is made up of pedestrian streets that wander this way and that and offer excellent shopping and dining opportunities. A visit to the Plaka is almost a given after a visit to the Acropolis. Relaxing in one of the sidewalk cafes enjoying a local dish is a great way to spend the lunch hour.

On our way to the Plaka district we passed the statute of Melina Mercouri who was was a famous Greek actress, singer and politician.

Despite being a tourist hub and having a fair number of commercial establishments, Plaka still retains its traditional Greek soul. The food in the restaurants in Plaka is not standard tourist fare but good authentic Greek food.

If you’re fond of shopping then you can pick up antiques, wood carvings, jewelry, and traditional Greek items in Plaka’s shops. Motor vehicles are not allowed in Plaka. Tourists can spend many hours walking through the narrow winding labyrinthine streets of Plaka. We decided to have our lunch at one of the restaurants in Plaka.  Don't miss this on your visit to Athens!

( courtesy of Lulu Kamatoy )

SYNTAGMA SQUARE - Syntagma Square is the main square in Athens and is a good starting place to do your own walking tour. It is also referred to as Constitution Square and around here you’ll find the banks, airline offices, shopping centres and malls, restaurants and hotels.

The Parliament

This beautiful 11th century church of Kapnikarea sits in the middle of the bustling shopping district in downtown Athens.

MONASTIRAKI - This is within walking distance from the Plaka. It offers nice views of the acropolis, and is an entrance to the Athens flea market. If you stand in the middle of the square, you can see the Flea market on one side, Metro Station on another, Acropolis looming large over the square in the background

Monastiraki offers some shopping especially their open air market but most folks head to the Plaka District for excellent shopping opportunities. Most of the shops in Athens close for afternoon siesta around 1 to 2 pm and do not reopen until 5:30. They are also closed on Sundays, so be sure to plan your shopping.

Athens has something for everyone, whether it is for some food, drinks, shopping, souvenirs or just a casual walk around it is worth it especially if you are a tourist. Walking the Plaka is such an experience. We spent hours strolling and looking at the wares. The food was wonderful in the Plaka. Give yourself at least a day for wandering around Athens. It would have been nice to relax in this environment and not have to rush around to get back to the cruise ship.

First I must say I have never cruised before and didn't really know what to expect. This was my first cruise and it was Lulu who suggested to me that we would take a cruise with Holland America. Thank you Lulu for doing all the researches on our shore excursions. We loved the people we met aboard the ship, we loved the ports, and we will definitely be using Holland America again!  We had an amazing time.

I loved my adventure on the MS Noordam!!! Our cruise was perfect. Cheers to you MS Noordam and Holland America Lines!!!


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