After embarking on the Norwegeian Spirit in Venice and then spending two days at sea, I was more than ready to get off the ship and do something. I’m not a big fan of “at sea” days and two in a row is about the limit of my endurance. But finally it was 5 a.m. on a port day when my little travel alarm clock began to beep and I rolled over and switched it off. Our tour meeting time was 7:30 a.m. in the theater.
There was no room to be late or lag behind. At exactly 7:30 we were sent to the gangplank and were on our way toward the city as our guide talked about the history of Athens. We did a quick spin past some places that the guide pointed at through the bus window and we made a quick photo stop at the Olympic Stadium which is not an ancient site. I thought photo stop at the Temple of Zeus would have been more interesting — driving by and seeing those huge columns in the middle of the city was fascinating– but, no matter. We were in Athens!
At the Acropolis there are quite a few stairs to climb and they can be slippery and uneven. When we reached the top, the pathway was cobblestones, loose gravel and random rocks jutting out here and there. It was less flat that I’d expected and the Parthenon is so much bigger!
While the stairs may make a problem for someone with mobility issues, the real hinderance was going climbing the stairs surrounded by so many people. By the time we arrived at around 8:30 or 9-ish it was already crowded with tourists which made it difficult to keep up with the guide. We lost the guide several times which was annoying and which could have been prevented if she’d simply stayed with the group and kept us all together instead of running ahead to the next stop. Nevertheless, it was nice having a guide to give some history and answer questions. After her talk we had about 45 minutes to wander on our own.
The Acropolis is an amazing site. We had to skip the Acropolis Museum but otherwise I felt that the amount of time scheduled here was about right. You can’t enter any of the ruins so once you’ve walked around and stood and just pondered the excitement of being in one of the world’s most remarkable places, you’ll be ready to move on. As we left, we thought we had given ourselves plenty of time (20 minutes) to get back to the tour meeting point with time to spare but the crowd going down the hill was so big and slow that we barely made the deadline. If you’re with a tour group, you have to allow much more time than you think to get down the hill if there is a crowd. Finally on the street we made our way to the meeting point and arrived without a minute to spare. Without waiting even a minute longer and without taking a head count, our guide hurried us to the bus. A few passengers got left behind and were angry about it but luckily they knew where the bus was parked and were able to catch up. I don’t think I’d have been so lucky finding the bus.
We next went to the Archaeological Museum. The guide led us through showing us many of the highlights. You could spend days inside. The museum is filled with AMAZING things. It was nice having someone pick out the highlights and describe them because we’d gotten lost and spent a week there if someone hadn’t been constantly moving us along. Surprisingly, I felt I got quite a lot out of the visit even though it didn’t last much more than an hour or so.
At about 1:30 we drove to lunch in the Plaka district. We sat at long tables outside our restaurant and the weather and atmosphere was lovely. Lunch consisted of bread and some sort of yogurt dip, greek salad, skewered pork, french fries and wine. The salad was fantastic. The pork was dry and tough and most people left it on their plate as it was inedible. The french fries were the typical frozen variety and not at all what I expected to be served as part of a greek meal. Dessert was a prepackaged, individually wrapped piece of baklava that was too tough to bite. I was extremely disappointed with lunch. This was our only opportunity to experience a meal in Athens. For the cost of this tour I expected a meal that would at least rank a ‘good’ rating. If we could do it over again we would have left the group and had lunch on our own at one of the many nearby restaurants.
After lunch we split up and had about an hour to wander the Plaka on our own. Doc and I stayed very close to the main street because we realized how easy it would be to get lost. If we went down a side street, we made sure to come back to the main street before taking off down another alley. We browsed the shops and I bought a pretty pink and yellow scarf for a few dollars. I stopped in a shop when a chain belt caught my eye. I had brought a chain belt in my luggage but had lost it and needed another belt of some kind to go with a new blouse. I touched the belt, looking for a price tag (there wasn’t one) and immediately a little, old sales lady ran out of the back of the shop and began pushing me to try it on. She had the belt around my waist and had pushed me in front of the mirror, telling to “look at how lovely it is!” over and over.
I asked how much it cost.
“It’s such a beautiful piece!”
“Yes, but how much does it cost?” I removed it from my waist and moved back toward the rack.
“No worry! It’s on sale! See how the gold shines?! It’s lovely isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s lovely. But what does it cost?”
Finally she thought a moment and told me she could let me have it for 80 euros.
I said “No thank you” and hung it back onto it’s rack. I moved toward the door.
“But you said you liked it!” she called after me.
I walked out onto the street.
“But it’s nice!” she screamed from the doorway, even following me down the steps. “What do you want?! Do you want junk?!”
Doc and I grinned at each other as we walked away.
A note to cruisers: Doc and I had considered doing this port on our own. In the end, I was glad we’d chosen the tour instead. Being our first time in Athens it would have been more difficult and more complicated than I would have thought after reading reviews from other do it yourselfers. Athens is bigger than I’d imagined and even Ancient Athens was a big place. Even with the bus driving us, there was still a lot of walking. This was also the hottest day of our entire cruise and it was nice to have an air conditioned bus to return to and to drive us from place to place.
In Athens, we chose NCL’s regular bus tour. The descriptions of the small group tours look like they are the same as the regular bus tour only in a smaller group. After taking some of the small group tours in other cities, I can tell you there is more of a difference than just group size. All of the ship’s excursion schedules appear to be arranged to give the small group tours the best scheduling. Plus, in Ephesus for example, our guide was allowed to take us through by walking a different path than the larger bus tours walked. We were always at each particular stop alone with just our own group while the larger bus tours were all following the same crowded paths together. The restaurants were also better. That being said, I had few problem with the larger bus excursion. There were about 35 to 40 people on the larger bus tours we took. They are not as “luxurious” as the small group tours but they are not as expensive either and were a good way to see the sights.