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A Week in Athens and Agestri

Hey folks, haven't been on here recently but I'm trying to get back into travel blogging so I'm using this post as a short version of what I'll eventually be blogging about in more depth, with some tips since we did some things very right on this trip and other things fairly wrong and it might be helpful for first-timers to Athens.

I returned yesterday from my second trip to Greece. The first trip focused on Thessoloniki and Pelion. This trip was motivated by a desire to see my favorite band, which is playing a succession of European festivals, but we chose to see them in Athens because it was the cheapest ticket, in the cheapest country, and the easiest to get to venue. Plus my husband is fascinated with ancient Greece and I wanted some beach time, so it just made sense.

Unfortunately, the cheapest flights from my city to Athens only run 3 times a week, so while I would have preferred to fly in, see the show and spend a couple days in Athens, and then go to an island to relax, we had to do it the other way around. We were also constrained by flight times. So if my itinerary seems a little weird, that's why.

Arrived at the Athens Airport at 8:50 p.m. and used Welcome Pickups for a transfer to the port suburb of Piraeus, which was 54 euros. Normally we would just take public transit, but we were arriving late and didn't want to deal with a 90 minute bus or metro ride with transfer that late with a bigger piece of luggage than I should've taken. Ironically the transfer cost more than our hotel in Piraeus, but it was so convenient that I'd do it again in similar circumstances.

Our hotel, "Piraeus Dream" is a perfectly adequate budget hotel walking distance to the port and just a couple blocks . Check in and out was fast and easy, they upgraded us to a larger room, the AC was cold.

Piraeus obviously isn't famous for being particularly pleasant, but we managed to have a nice late meal at Harlequin and then strolled down to Che for a drink in an absolutely lovely patio.

I purchased online tickets for the Flying Dolphin for our trip to Agistri. The port was fairly confusing because multiple ships dock at the different numbers. We finally figured out which one we should be waiting by, only to be told that our electronic tickets required a printout so we rushed to the ticketing booth to get that done before the boat departed. The Flying Dolphin was not the most pleasant boating experience I've ever had. We took the longer car ferry back and had a much more enjoyable trip, mostly due to scenery and being able to go above deck, get a beer, etc. The car ferry is only 30 minutes longer and is a few euros cheaper as well, and drops off at the village most people going to Agistri are headed to - Skala.

I'm going to go ahead and talk about Agistri (against my better judgement) in the next post.

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Agistri is one of those places you almost don't want to talk about, because you don't want it to become ruined, and yet as a member of the worldwide community of travelers, I feel like I have to, because it. was. perfect.

We really agonized over which island to choose. We didn't want to go too far from Athens because for a short trip we wanted to keep transit time to a minimum. But I demanded beautiful waters for swimming. And unlike some past "beach vacations" where we stay in a village and end up hiking down every day to get to a decent beach, I wanted to really maximize water time. But I also wanted good food, not too many tourists, and enough infrastructure that I wasn't a prisoner of my hotel.

It was actually the hotel that sold me on Agistri compared to other options. I found Hotel Kekrifalia on Booking.com and it looked perfect for what I wanted. What I didn't expect was for it to actually be the most perfect place I've ever stayed at. I'm not exaggerating.

It's a beautiful whitewashed modern building set on a promontory overlooking Skala to the west and a national forest to the right. A fantastic breakfast buffet is included. The rooms were huge by European standards, with a kitchenette and whirpool tub and minimalist decor and that all-important good A/C. We stayed in one of two rooms that didn't have an ocean view, but we did have a lovely mostly private patio from which you could see the sea. The lack of a sea view from the room didn't matter, as in addition to the hotel restaurant and bar, there are a number of terraces with comfortable furniture. Just below them is the private "beach" - actually a concrete platform with a ladder to get in and out of the water, with comfortable loungers and palapas for shade. A hearty buffet breakfast of Greek and International items is included in the price, which was 83 euros a night. I'm not joking!

Frankly, 150/night would be entirely fair for a hotel this nice, but Agistri is really cheap, even compared with neighboring islands like Aegina, which was much larger and more crowded (appearing).

So yeah, we chose wisely. And are already planning our next trip there in September. The service there was incredible as well. The hotel is small enough that even at maximum capacity it doesn't feel crowded (I think there's just 8 rooms), particularly on the oceanfront terraces.

We quickly developed our routine. Breakfast at 10am, then beach slab time, followed up by lunch at the hotel restaurant (which is good, although not amazing) a few hours later, followed by more beach and swim time. One of us would run to the store to restock on beers and snacks. (The hotel seemed to have no issue with us bringing our own beverages to the beach or terrace areas). Around 6pm we'd make the arduous climb of 25 steps to our room, rinse off, and dress for sunset, which we'd watch from the terrace. Then once it was dark we'd walk the 5 minutes into town for dinner at one of the several phenomenal restaurants including my best Greek meal of all time. Then a stroll around the shore in town, a drink or two at a hotel bar or with beers purchased from a kisok where we'd play air hockey, or watch night divers do their thing, then a return to the hotel to watch the lights of Aegnia, or maybe even a skinny dip before bed.

One night we mixed it up by going up the road towards a series of "resorts" (just casual beachfront hotels) and the national forest, where young Athenians illegally camp and have beach bonfires. We listened to live traditional music at Rosy's Little Village. One day we got very adventurous and visited the pine-shaded cove beach of Skliri, hiked through the forest marveling at the hammock placement of the campers, and got some amazing views of Chalikiada beach, but we didn't want to stay away from our hotel for too long. It was that amazing.

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So, yeah, Agistri. My first Greek island and while I want to see more, all I can think about is the week that we're looking to stay there i September. Maybe then we'll get around to visiting the other couple of villages and beaches on the Island, or even a day trip to Aegnia, but for 3 days it was perfect to do next to nothing.

As a result, I wasn't exactly looking forward to Athens. It had been hot on Agistri (temps staying in the 32-34 range, dipping maybe into the high 20s in the very early morning hours) but there was always that amazing sea breeze and of course, easy access for a swim.

It wasn't too difficult to get from dock 8 in Piraeus to the Metro which was, thankfully, air-conditioned. Unfortunately my typical strategy when visiting large European cities - book a well reviewed apartment - wasn't so great in Athens in the summer. Natasha's Home was a lovely place to stay in a leafy residential neighborhood, but it was also up a massive hill from the bus stop. And yeah, we attempted to take the bus, which was not particularly air-conditioned. Public transit in Athens was fairly slow moving and confusing except for the Metro itself, which we were a 20 minute walk from (normally not an issue - definitely an issue in this heat, however!) Anyway Natasha is that special kind of person who hugs you the minute she meets you, it took us an hour to check out because she wanted to chat and show us how she's transforming the roof into a sun terrace (fantastic Acropolis views!). I think most Rick Steveites would love the personal touch and thoughfulness of the apartment (stocked with food and she got us some cold white wine when we checked in as well) but since we'll be back in Athens when it will still be hot, we'll probably opt for a more central hotel, but I wouldn't hesitate to stay there again in cooler weather.

The music festival was the first night, so after arriving and cooling down we got dinner at the phenomenal restaurant "Indian Chef" with some of the best Indian food I've had in my life - wasn't expecting that in Athens! Then we had to head to to the festival venue, accessible by tram (good lord is that tram slow, though). The Killers put on an amazing show, although it took us forever to get back to our apartment at 2am.

We slept in the next day. This became a bit of a problem in Athens. Our goal every day was to wake up at 6:30, go see the Acropolis, come back to the apartment, nap in the heat of the day, then go back out at night. The problem is we are not morning people and the wonderful late-night culture of Athens was very tempting to us, especially since temps were almost tolerable by 11pm and the last thing we wanted was to cut the night short instead of enjoying the fantastic nightlife. As a result...we did not end up seeing the Acropolis. I KNOW. We kept putting it off until our last night at 2:00 a.m. we realized we'd be miserable and exhausted if we stuck to our plan of getting up early to go see it, and since we're already making plans to return to Agistri in September, we decided to do it then the day after we fly in, then make a beeline for the port and get our butts to the island.

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Athens was a real mixed bag for me. I usually enjoy bustling, energetic, cutting edge cities and in that sense Athens appealed to me. It was also just incredibly hot, with some maddening aspects (line cutting, poor public transit behavior, just confusing public transit in general). I found my nerves were frayed more than they'd usually be but I attribute that to the heat. We didn't really experience temperatures below 30. But there were aspects of the city that were delightful and magical, the food and wonderful outdoor spaces in the evening in addition to the sights. We managed to see the Temple of Olympian Zeus, both Agoras, Hadrian's Library, the Archaeological Museum, the Central Market, as well as just walking and enjoying many of the different neighborhoods. We didn't have a bad meal, and most of our food experiences were amazing, including a special dinner at Aleria, for which I highly recommend the food. (The service? Eh...)

Part of it is probably being so used to efficient, orderly, usually-not-so-hot Germany -it's made me soft. I did appreciate once again the exceptional warmth and friendliness and helpfulness of the people in Greece. We managed not to get ripped off by cabs once we finally started abandoning public transit to get back to our apartment, by negotiating the price up front (we only had a metered ride the first time, but it gave us a good benchmark of how much it would cost to get back to our place, so we actually got a better deal with the two subsequent unmetered rides, much to the chagrin of the drivers who agreed to a price before understanding exactly where our hotel was.) We'd been worried about crime and scams, but only witnessed some Roma/Sinti families trying to make us take roses. We were mindful of our things but even sitting at a taverna in a touristy area felt pretty easy compared to the same in Paris, Madrid, or Barcelona (all places where people I know have experienced theft and seen plenty of scammers). One girl tried to give us a rose, we said no, so she said "give me 50 cents then." We did. I'd rather just be asked for money than have someone try to give me a rose "for free" and then demand payment.

What I'd do differently next time:
Stay in a more central location since so many of Athens' sights and neighborhoods are quite close together

Take. A. Smaller. Bag. I normally only do carry-on, but we chose to check one bag this time. Because it was a week and I didn't want to be troubled by washing clothes and wanted to bring full-sized toiletries like my favorite sunscreen, and I do have a larger-than-carryon bag that is very light - until you pack it full of stuff. We both brought jeans we never wore because of the heat, and I ended up washing and rewearing some light blouses anyway, because I really abandoned pretensions of fashion because of how hot it was. And looking back I could have just filled up to carry-on sized tubes with my sunscreen. It's tough because what you want for a beach trip and a city trip are very different but by the nature of this trip we had to combine the two, but it was my most egregious overpacking situation in years.

Related to overpacking, there are some things I either brought (sunscreen, a beach towel), or wanted (a floatie for the water!) or bought on the island (bug spray - 9 euros! total rip off!) that I think would make sense to go to a cheap box-type store in Athens (the metro to Piraeus stopped at a large shopping center). Buy those items cheap on the mainland, then leave them behind when you're done. Don't buy anything "beachy" on an island.)

Figure out the ferry situation before you get there. If I'd researched better we could have taken an earlier car ferry and had more island time and a nicer trip over. I've traveled so much in Europe that I don't plan ahead as much as I used to, but in Greece it really does pay to do that.

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Glad you had a great time. It would be great to live in Europe and explore. Having said that the good old USA has amazing places also. So many places, so little time.

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Nice to see you posting again, Sarah. I really enjoyed your report.