Date visited: January 2007
Post written by Laura
As the England 2020 travel restrictions continue, so do my throwback travel posts… this time I look back on my first ever solo trip: a long weekend to Athens! This is also the first ‘pre-Chris’ post, remembering a trip I took as a single person.
Capital of Greece and with its origins dating back to around 3,400 years ago Athens is also the oldest capital city of Europe. As such Athens is immersed in history and ruins. Perched on a rock towering above the city is the Acropolis, the ancient citadel built in the 5th Century BC. As part of a city break you can easily spend a day or two exploring the Acropolis and many more amazing historical sights.
Greece has 600 islands to explore and Athens is often the starting point. Numerous ferries make many directly accessible including well known islands such as Mykonos and Santorini. As part of this trip I embarked on a day trip visiting 3 of them.
- Day 1: arrive in Athens, relax and spend the afternoon taking in some initial sights and enjoying the cafe culture; book boat trip.
- Day 2: full day excursion to islands Hydra, Poros and Aegina
- Day 3: full day to visit the ancient sights of Athens
As my first solo trip I was determined to do everything as independently as possible. Upon arrival, rather than taking a taxi from Athens airport I travelled into the city by metro and then found my way by walking to the hotel. This did take some time and was a bit stressful as I negotiated a maze of narrow streets with hundreds of mopeds zipping past.
Also, my 2* hotel was small and nondescript… I wasn’t looking for anything huge or well-known that might be something of a landmark. And in 2007 there was no Google maps and with the Greek alphabet I found the maps and signs to be confusing!
After eventually checking in I spent the rest of the afternoon becoming acquainted with the city. This section of the post also covers the main sights I visited on Day 3, my full day in Athens. Above is Syntagma Square where I sat with a cup of hot chocolate as I people watched and felt rather smug that travelling solo and independently is easy!
I had successfully found my way using public transport from my home in England to the heart of Athens without feeling anxious, wary or unsure at all. I was enjoying my own company and the new found freedom to do whatever I pleased and with nobody to answer to.
I also discovered that as a solo traveller it is relatively easy to chat to people as your focus is outwards, rather than on your travel companions. Throughout the weekend I had managed to strike up several conversations in cafes, on trains and at the airport!
The Athens Acropolis (acropolis meaning ‘high city’ in Greek) is one of the most famous acropolis and is the place to where people would retreat if the city was under attack. It was fascinating to wander around these ancient ruins and try to image life over 2000 years ago.
Located at the Acropolis is the Parthenon the most famous structure at the site. The Parthenon is dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron saint of Athens. Inside there is a small shrine to Athena which has been excavated.
A caryatid is the sculptured column in the shape of a female figure. These caryatids support the porch of the Erechtheum at the Acropolis.
With its dominant position overlooking the city you are treated to fabulous views from the Acropolis.
Located on the southwest slope of Acropolis Hill is the Roman Theatre of Herodes. The theatre was originally completed in 161 AD and had some restoration in 1950. Usually several outdoor performances are held here each year.
Back in the city there are a number of bustling flea markets one of the biggest and best known being Monastiraki Flea Market.
Day trip to Hydra, Poros and Aegina
I had booked the trip with the hotel reception on the previous day, was collected by mini bus at 7 am and driven in the dark to the port of Piraeus. I boarded the boat and to begin with I found a quiet corner and started to read through the study materials I had taken with me.
Being on my own I had discovered it is helpful to have some reading materials with you to fill in the time you would usually be chatting with your travel buddies. And as I had recently started a Masters degree, this was a good opportunity to be productive…
However this didn’t last long… as the boat left and the early morning sun began to appear I made my way to the top deck and watched the scenery of the coast line as the boat sailed to our first destination.
Once our boat arrived in the port of Hydra we all disembarked and had two hours to wander around harbour and the charming little town. Other than us day trippers the town was quiet and peaceful although this was January… it’s probably a little busier in the summer months!
There were no cars, only donkeys which are used as transport on the island. I walked through the quaint cobbled streets, looked at the market stalls and had a drink in a harbour-side cafe before making my way back to the boat.
While my trekking was limited to a couple of hours on this occasion as I wandered around the streets and the market, Hydra does have a number of hiking trails across the island. (Mental note to return in the future…)
Back on the boat in time for lunch! As we boarded we were allocated to a table and it was particularly helpful that all solo travellers were placed together on the same table.
I was anticipating a buffet however it was a pleasure to find that all of the tables had been laid out for a sit down meal. I chatted to some new friends as we enjoyed a delicious lunch. One was a super friendly and super chatty Chinese lady who had been on business in London and, like me, was in Athens for a weekend break. The other was a German called Michelle who was in Athens on business. Both spoke excellent English which was most helpful.
After lunch the three of us went to the top deck and sat in the sun as the boat made its way to Poros.
We only had 40 minutes in Poros which is very close to the mainland. We (my two new friends and I) climbed to a church located in a village at the top of a small hill.
Back on the boat we sailed to Aegina in lovely warm sunshine. In Aegina we were taken by coach to an ancient site and then onto a modern 30 year old cathedral where all of the gold mosaics were real gold!
We left Aegina at dusk and sailed back to Piraeus and Athens. Throughout the journey we were entertained by some Greek dancers, although no plate smashing on this occasion!
What a brilliant day! I enjoyed every moment of my little insight into these small Greek islands located so close to Athens. This was a lovely contrast with the other full day being one of sightseeing.
Wow! What a city and a great place to spend a long weekend! My first solo travel experience was positive as I discovered how easy it is to meet and chat with people and the boat trip was particularly good for this. As a solo ‘newbie’ the only times I felt uncomfortable were in the evenings. I wasn’t keen on venturing out in the dark on my own so tended to sit in my room with a snack, reading a book and having an early night!
I was also fortunate with clear blue skies and warm temperatures for the weekend… While still enjoying a warmer climate than the UK, Greece can get relatively cold with clouds and rain in the winter months.
In the future I would like to visit Athens with an extended trip perhaps starting there and taking ferries to several islands staying in each one for a few days at a time, doing some of those awesome looking hiking trails in Hydra and others… Hmmm… another travel seed sown in my mind ready for germinating into a future Greek Island boat packing trip 🙂